Any cook who didn't get what he or she wanted this Christmas would do well to head to a bookstore and slap down $25 for 'Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever Ñ From Thursday Nights at Campanile' by Nancy Silverton and Teri Gelber.

Released in October, it is the most engaging, useful and easy-to-follow cookbook to cross my desk since Sally Schneider's 'A New Way to Cook' came out more than a year ago.

Silverton and her husband, Mark Peel, both celebrated chefs, own and operate both the popular restaurant Campanile and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles (check out La Brea breads at Whole Foods for a taste of what lucky Angelenos have right in their back yard). The 'Sandwich Book' grew out of Campanile's Sandwich Night, a tradition that Silverton began after a particularly memorable stop on a Tuscan food tour.

In the book's introduction, Silverton explains Ñ in her instantly likable, straightforward voice Ñ that of all the good eating she had indulged in during the trip, the thing she couldn't get out of her mind was the simple toasted sandwiches served in a Florentine crostini bar. These were not the blandly symmetrical stacks of bread, deli meat, sliced cheese, mayo and mustard known to you and me.

'Before I knew it, I, too, was drinking red wine and eating grilled bread rubbed with garlic and layered with prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan, or with tuna, egg, and anchovies, and feeling very Italian,' Silverton recounts.

Unable to shake her cravings for these sandwiches, humbly constructed but made with fresh, sophisticated ingredients, Silverton began to make her own. Sandwich Night at Campanile has proved an unmitigated hit.

Silverton doesn't waste words on florid food descriptions. Instead, she gets to the point, imparting important instructions on technique that are aimed at the home cook who isn't equipped with an ostentatious commercial-grade kitchen or a culinary school grad's expertise. She doesn't implore the reader to invest in a panini grill; rather, she divulges that using a cast-iron skillet will achieve the same results. And though the recipe introductions often include mention of celebrities (Mario Batali's favorite bagna cauda sandwich, Nora Ephron's request for a strawberry ambrosia recipe) or terrific food haunts in faraway places, the anecdotes never come across as annoyingly insider-y; they are charming and informative, in the style of pioneering food writer M.F.K. Fisher.

The 'Sandwich Book' is arranged by sandwich type: open-faced, closed face, tea (those fussy finger sandwiches taken down a notch), sort-of sandwiches (bread-dependent dishes such as panzanella and fondue), and sandwich cakes and cookies (Almost Oreos, Not Nutter Butters). There are also short chapters on spreads and condiments, breads (though Silverton heartily advises using quality bread from local bakeries, because who has the time to bake bread anymore?) and quick-fix bar snacks, which she added to the Sandwich Night menu to appease hungry crowds while waiting for their exquisite sandwiches.

Silverton's enthusiasm for sandwiches and what they represent Ñ an informal, relaxed approach to dining Ñ is so convincing and her recipes so appealing that, a few pages into the book, you may start to think that sandwiches are the best meal ever conceived. After fixing and eating elaborate holiday dinners, that's no surprise. Even if you fail to join a gym/pay off credit cards/learn to play the drums/whatever, you can be assured that the sandwich will perfectly fit your New Year's commitment to a simpler, less harried life.

Contact Christina Melander at

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