Each year's crush of Very Important Cookbooks starts in the fall and heads into the holidays. But I prefer summer's leaner crop, which comes with a bonus: the gift of time. These are the cookbooks meant to be pored over, and chances are good that smoldering briquettes and warm vacation days will allow for just that. Plus, with so many fresh ingredients at their peak, the cookin' is easy.
In order of delightfulness, here's a pile worth building on your bedside table (to bring into the kitchen later):
"River Café London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant," by Ruth Rogers, Rose Gray, Sian Wyn Owen and Joseph Trivelli (Knopf, $40). This sequel to the 30-year-old restaurant's first cookbook is practically perfect in every way. It is artistic. It has a story to tell. It recognizes the contributions of its late co-founder Rose Gray. It doesn't gussy up any of its food, which is a hallmark of the famous cafe on the Thames. About the only nit I have to pick is with its introductory statement that "Everyone is a chef," which I chalk up to British politesse. The rest of us are cooks, happy to follow the lead of these chefs. Their Italian recipes are simple yet empowering.
"How to Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories and Places," by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $34.99). Understanding how to build a meal that fits the occasion can vex all manner of kitchen hands, but that's not the only reason you'll revisit this cookbook again and again. "How to Eat a Peach," by the popular British author, merits special attention because it delivers timeless and thoughtful food writing, accompanied by handsome visual vignettes. Americans might not be moved to attempt Henry's recipe for roast partridge, but they will surely enjoy the remembrance that goes with it: her father's well-traveled appetites that helped her learn "to taste the world."
"The Minimalist Kitchen: 100 Wholesome Recipes, Essential Tools, and Efficient Techniques," by Melissa Coleman (Oxmoor House, $29.99). This is a book you could cook your way through — if you consider yourself a cook. One might argue that it describes a moderate kitchen rather than a minimalist one, as its stocked list of ingredients includes 110 pantry items, 53 seasonal ones and 22 dried spices. But the recipes are clear, the food looks appealing, and the tips are worth considering. To wit: You need only a half-cup and a single tablespoon measure for all your measuring needs; keep the junk drawer small; declutter every six months.
"Breakfast With Beatrice: 250 Recipes From Sweet Cream Waffles to Swedish Farmer's Omelets," by Beatrice Ojakangas (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95). Take this to the beach house, and you won't have to beat the morning rush for family pancakes at the diner. It is the definitive greatest-hits, carb-heavy compilation from an American culinary hall of famer. Nordic inspiration runs deep, and often round: Danish butter crown, Icelandic coffee wreath, Swedish tea ring. How does Ojakangas manage to stuff so many delights into a mere 211 pages? No photos — and brief recipes that run in "galley mode." Old school. (For a conversation with Ojakangas, see Rick Nelson's interview at startribune.com/taste.)
"Good Fish: 100 Sustainable Seafood Recipes From the Pacific Coast," by Becky Selengut (Sasquatch, $29.95). The timing's right for this update of the author's successful 2011 dive into the ingredient that makes cooks of all levels feel insecure: fish. Selengut gives an easy-read course on how to choose and store seafood. She also advises how to buy it seasonally; "farmed" is not forbidden. Dishes are paired with wine or beer. Don't worry about the subtitle: Her lessons extend to what comes from East Coast waters, too.
"Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen," by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett (Rux Martin/HMH, $30). Just about everything between the front and back covers of this book looks like it's meant to be consumed in warm weather, so alert the neighbors, fire up the grill, and make sure there's an outdoor power source for the blender. This is not fusion food but rather a recognition of what Mexican and Southern cuisines have in common: cultural adaptation, in the best sense.
"Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill: Amazing Plant-Based Ribs, Burgers, Steaks, Kabobs and More Smoky Favorites," by Linda and Alex Meyer (Page Street, $21.99). Hospitable omnivorous host, meet your summertime kitchen helper. Pulled sweet potatoes with chipotle barbecue sauce and a Southern-style skillet cornbread with maple butter sound good for all, right? The mother-daughter co-authors of this book devised recipes for year-round cooking, but we think that much of what hits a grill pan indoors can work outside on the Weber, as well.