What to buy for the cook in your life this year? 2021 has seen a fresh crop of beautifully illustrated food writing and recipe books. Here are a few of the best and two not new, but a worthy gift.

Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino (Jonathan Cape)

Ham & High: Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino is published by Jonathan CapeEating to Extinction by Dan Saladino is published by Jonathan Cape (Image: Jonathan Cape)

As a journalist and presenter Radio 4's The Food Programme - probably the only serious UK broadcast about food - Dan is in a great position to write about the world's rarest foods and the danger of their disappearance. What our diet lacks today is diversity: it is as uniform as our high streets. Most of the world eats only nine foods, of which three ingredients – wheat, rice and maize – form the bulk. This thick but easily navigable book is divided into short chapters - from a a crimson pear in the England to exploding corn in Mexico - so you don't have to read it from front to back. It's a culinary atlas for the curious and greedy traveller.

Butter by James Martin (Quadrille)

Ham & High: James Martin Butter is priced £22.James Martin Butter is priced £22. (Image: Quadrille)

I'm not a fan of telly chef books, usually ghosted and impersonal, but this is a subject close to my heart. Even in the heyday of margarine being touted as better for you, I never abandoned my one true love. It's the reason I can't go completely vegan. The mouthfeel is exquisite; it melts at body temperature. I can eat it by the slice, no bread necessary. Martin's book celebrates this ingredient with recipes for flavoured butters and rich paeans to full fat glory.

Dirt: Adventures in French Cooking by Bill Buford (Jonathan Cape)

Ham & High: Published in 2020 Dirt follows Bill Buford as he tries to discover the secret of French cookingPublished in 2020 Dirt follows Bill Buford as he tries to discover the secret of French cooking (Image: Penguin Random House)

I've read all of Buford's books, whether it be on football ('Among the thugs') or cooking ('Heat'). His technique is immersive research: he joins the clan and spends years undercover, living the life. He is prepared to become a football hooligan, to learn to butcher meat in an Italian village, to work the line in a New York kitchen, to start in his 40s from the bottom, to be abused and humiliated by spotty 20-year-old chefs. Here he learns to become a classical French chef. He moves his family to Lyon, the home of traditional French cooking (not Paris), rents a flat, puts his kids in the local school, and, by no means a young man, begs for work at Lyonnais 'bouchons'. It isn't easy: few want to give him a chance. Follow his journey in Dirt. Will they accept him?

Gastro Obscura by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras (Workman)

Ham & High: Gastro Obscura is published by WorkmanGastro Obscura is published by Workman (Image: Workman)

Authored by the people behind the website Gastro Obscure, this is a perfect gift for the foodie traveller. Browse the location in the book beforehand and make sure to visit. For those firmly UK bound, the book offers a virtual plane seat on a voyage to far flung gastronomic destinations like Egypt's 2,000-year-old 'egg ovens' for hatching eggs, or 'wild pigeon towers'.

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury)

Ottolenghi's recipes are famous for their long lists of exotic ingredients. The first in a series, this book breaks down his recipe-creating process, which starts with using up what's already in the pantry. Did you know you should be peeling your chickpeas for hummus? Nor did I. The recipes are illustrated with step by step photos and look so appetising you could almost lick the page.

At Home by Rick Stein (BBC Books)

Stein is probably the nearest scion of Keith Floyd in telly heritage terms: warm, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Most TV chefs use a ghost writer; if this is the case here, they've done a great job of channelling Rick. Like Ottolenghi's book, it has a lockdown vibe. He talks of doing his daily steps, revisiting his greatest hits, simplifying recipes, growing things, doing DIY, buying gadgets from Amazon, his favourite sundowner drink and of cooking dishes he's never had the time to try. He even had the stereotypical urge to perfect his sourdough. In short, he was all of us. The recipes are simple yet considered, and of course the fish dishes are stellar.

Tools for Food by Corinne Mynatt (Hardie Grant)

A book for the kitchenalia freak, an obsession to which I freely admit. I've actually counted that I already possess 75 percent of the tools mentioned. Good cooking is easier, quicker and more enjoyable when you have the right kit. Mynatt details the provenance, date and inventor of the best tools: peeler (Rex, Alfred Neweczerzal, Switzerland); grater (Microplane, Lorraine Lee and Richard Grace, 1994, Canada/USA); rubber spatula (Frank J Sullivan, 1996, USA) are a few examples, with dozens more, from ancient times to the modern day, spanning the globe.

The Plagiarist in the Kitchen by Jonathan Meades (Unbound)

Published in 2017, but well worth revisiting as it's fun as well as being full of spiky wisdom about food. Jonathan sounds grumpy, gossipy and a cook who knows what he is talking about – a rare thing in a publishing climate desperate to sign up the next TikTok star or bikini-clad influencer turned daytime TV presenter. His basic premise is that no recipe is original. We are all plagiarists.

Some recipes are very short – "Persillade: garlic, flat leaf parsley; chop finely together" – which is refreshing when food writers are usually sternly instructed to write in a way that anyone could follow, step by wearisome step. Other recipes are cheeky. 'Euphemisms' is a recipe about balls, any balls. "Ingredients: balls, oil/butter, breadcrumbs seasoned with powdered cumin. Whether they belonged to a sheep, a calf or a bull, the preparation is the same. The outer membranes must be removed, then blanch them. Fry them in breadcrumbs." At the bottom of each page is a ticker-tape of exhortations to the cook: "Don't walk away... Concentrate... F**k the guests... And all that conviviality malarky... Do not waste bread: oil it and rebake it... Stock!...Vegetarianism is curable."