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Beginner-level cookbook with beautiful photos? Italian preferred

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I'm one of those lame people who need visual stimulation in order to get motivated to cook a meal. (This is not true of baking, only cooking.) And I really, really need to learn how to cook - I only have the barest, most basic kitchen skills. But my kitchen is teeny-tiny, I have no diswasher, and am lazy and unambitious (again, only in cooking).

That said, I really like Bittman's "Everything" cookbook and Marcella's "Essentials", but don't cook from them nearly often enough because I just need those glossy photos to get me going.

Jamie Oliver sounds like a bit of a twit in person, but I heard the recipes actually work. I only have Nigella's Goddess cookbook, and though I like the pics and the prose, the recipes are merely OK. How are her other books?

Do you have any recommendations? I'm not looking for a dumb "celebrity" cookbook, but a basic one with good, simple recipes and plentiful, nice photography. I want SIMPLE, light on the labor, big on the flavor. Please share your wisdom.

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  1. What about the new Batali book? I did not think it was good enough to be a regional reference italian piece for the hardcore purists, but it is a very nice book. The recipes are good (and mostly available free on foodtv) and most have big glossy photos to get you going. Seems to fit what you are looking for. I have a good success rate with his stuff and he is fairly faithfull to tradition which means simple, direct, rustic food with good flavor.

    Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/...

    1. Don't know how helpful this will be but I was given the River Cafe cook books, One & Two, by a relative and I have to say they're very good looking Italian food photos-full page, color close-up shots. Two English women, Rose Gray & Ruth Rogers, are the authors (hence their preferred salt is maldon) and my books are from England, so I'm not sure how difficult to find in the US. The recipes are pretty simple & loose, combining a few quality ingredients sort of thing and the pasta pics in particular inspire me to start boiling water.

      6 Replies
      1. re: petradish

        Posted awhile ago and didn't get a response, but I'm a die hard so I'll try again: Sir Gawain, did you post a 2-person souffle recipe awhile back when someone asked for quick dessert ideas? It was really easy: mix ingredients, put in two small ramekins, bake.

        Of course, I lost the link and don't remember the proportions! If it was you and you're feeling generous, could you please re-post?. Thank you so much!

        1. re: nooodles

          Yeah, that was me, except it was a one greedy person's soufflé... for a true one person's soufllé, use just one egg. But it always seems a pitifully small amount to me, so I almost always use two. Hell, it's just a soufflé, it§s not like it has a zillion calories.

          I am sorry but I actually don't remember exactly what proportions I use, but something like this:

          Preheat oven to 375-400. Separate two eggs, beat the whites until almost stiff (err on the side of underbeating), mix the yolks with... let's say... a 1/3 cup ricotta or a bit more, add sugar, vanilla extract and/or lemon zest to taste (the mixture should be very sweet and flavorful; the whites will dilute it.) Butter ramekins and coat insides with granulated sugar. Now add whites to yolk mixture, mix and spoon into ramekins. Bake in the upper third until tops are browned.

          I have also done this without separating the eggs, just whipping the hell out of them and then adding flavorings and ricotta. Was good too but didn't rise that much, and I think it took a bit longer to bake.

          I'm sorry it's all very approximate, the thing never comes out the same but it's never bad. Sometimes the bottom is a little runny, which I don't mind in the least, but if you do, test with a skewer for doneness.

          1. re: Sir Gawain

            I want to recommend the Boyajian citrus oils for flavoring. Very intense, you don't have to ruin a lemon, and they really perfume the soufflé. Go easy on them though - usually a few drops is enough. Lemon is my favorite.

            1. re: Sir Gawain

              Thank you!! I am one greedy person, so that sounds perfect to me.

              1. re: nooodles

                Oops! I think 1/3 cup ricotta is about the max you should use. Originally I had "1/4 or a bit more". I think I use about three heaped spooonfuls (using a big ole soup spoon) of ricotta, whatever that amounts to. Probably closer to 1/4 than 1/3 cup.

                Good luck, let me know how it goes! My e-mail is above...

        2. re: petradish

          The River Cafe cookbook sounds good. Seems the English have a special genius for cookbooks, eh? And I really adore English desserts, esp. puddings.

          Love Maldon salt too.

        3. I find all the cookbooks written by Jack Bishop (Vegetables Every Day, Pasta E Verdura, Lasagna, and The Italian Vegetarian) to be excellent, vegetarian-ish oriented as they may be. The recipes use simple, straightforward techniques, the writing is non-hokey, and the pictures in The Italian Vegetarian are gorgeous. He has several lentil dishes, a potato and arugula pizza, a minestrone recipe, and several green bean and zucchini recipes that I use all the time. And the cornmeal/dried cherry biscotti recipe is kick-ass. He's a Cook's Illustrated author/alum, but lacks the preachy tone that other CI writers can have.

          The recipes in Pasta E Verdura are all vegetable sauces for pasta w/specific pasta reccomendations, but no pictures.

          1. One of Marcella Hazan's cookbooks - Marcella Cucina- does have beautiful photos, thogh not one per recipe

            Her son, Giuliano Hazan, has more of a beginner level cookbook with photos (but I do not recall which one has more photography out of two cookbooks that I have seen), and I like his mother's approach in his recipes.


            It looks like he has another forthcoming book How to Cook Italian so perhaps you might want to check it out?

            1. Antipasti-The Little Dishes of Italy by Julia Della Croce. It is out of print but Amazon says they have it from $4.00+.

              It is soft bound, the pictures will make you drool, the recipes are terrific. Not all of the dishes are "little" and many could stand as mains.

              1. Although not Italian, I think the Barefoot Contessa books by Ina Garten meet all your other criteria. I particularly recommend the first book and the Parties book, although they are all excellent for beginners. With few exceptions, each recipe is photographed. The Indonesian Ginger Chicken alone is worth the price of the first book. Simple and easy to follow recipes.

                1. Not Italian, but peerless for a photo-rich beginner level book:

                  LaVarenne Pratique.

                  1. I wracked my brain to think of a good cookbook rec for you, but alas, nothing came to mind. Then I tried to remember what got me motivated to get into the kitchen 10 yrs. ago, and I would have to give lots of credit to Bon Appetit. They've since gone downhill IMO, but I would recommend a subscription to Food & Wine. I haven't seen an issue in a while, but they always struck me as having a very Italian bias. Simple to moderate recipes w/ accessible ingredients. There's a mag called Cucina Italiana, but it's kind of advanced and obscure and the food pics are stark and hideous IMO.

                    What's great about a mag is that you get one in the mail every month so it's like another kick in the butt or, ahem, motivator to get cooking. New recipes to try. Glossy photos. People hosting parties and looking like they're having lots of fun. A full Thanksgiving menu. BBQ recipes in the summer. I give credit to Bon Appetit for making me realize what produce and type of food worked best for what season. Lots of generalized info for a new cook. I say fun, generalized food mags first then focused cookbooks later. Good luck.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      A food magazine subscription is a good idea. I wouldn't say Food & Wine has an italian bias anymore, though. It's pretty eclectic-- the one thing I have noted is more whole grains, protein, and non-starchy vegetable dishes, which I like since I eat lower on the carb chain. Most of the recipes are straightforward, all are well written, and there are good photos of most dishes. However, for good recipes, simple techniques and ingredient lists, and recipes I'm always interested in, I'd have to say Fine Cooking beats F & W, which can be a bit like Travel & Leisure with a foodie bent. Again, not italian in focus, but there's usually a pasta or mediterranean dish or two in each edition, and the pictures are great.

                      1. re: emdb

                        I thought about Fine Cooking, but still think that Food & Wine might be more appropriate in this case. I say this b/c F&W has a nice blend of cooking, lifestyle, and restaurant/chef type articles that makes the whole idea of cooking more "hip" and exciting to a newbie cook. When I used to get F&W, the recipes generally worked well and my one F&W cookbook from 1999 def. has beautiful pictures and inspired me to experiment in the beginning. Just my two cents.

                        1. re: Carb Lover
                          ChowFun (derek)

                          Here's a link for an Italian food magazine

                          Link: http://www.italiancookingandliving.co...

                          1. re: ChowFun (derek)

                            Thanks for all the suggestions. I actually subscribe to F&W as well as Gourmet, and love the pictures (though kind of hate those overstyled stories about ultra-rich people in their perfect homes, wearing designer clothes and just "tossing together" these elaborate meals on their scenic estates. But it's just sour grapes on my part...) The trouble with magazines is that finding a recipe you feel like cooking today can a bit of a drag, as you have to carefully flip through several issues before hitting on one. I want a straightforward cookbook where I don't have to wade through a million ad pages and where things are spelled out for the inexperienced cook.

                            1. re: Sir Gawain

                              Oh yes, you point out a big problem w/ food mags. They are the worst references when you actually want to find something! I do remember that. When I was organized, I would try to bookmark pages w/ post-it notes that had recipes I wanted to try.

                              That's actually why I really liked my F&W cookbook that had compiled the best recipes from 1999. Everything was in one place and well-indexed. That got me thinking that you might like "Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian" if you like Saveur's style (see link). They have some of the best photography, and most recipes I've tried from Saveur have turned out well and weren't too difficult IMO. I don't personally own the book, but perhaps another hound can speak to it.

                              Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/...

                    2. Molto Italiano by Batali looks pretty good and close to what you seem to be wanting. I don't own it, but have given it a thorough perusing at the bookstore. I'm biased toward big cookbooks with lots of recipes, but most of the Italian cookbooks I own have few or no photos.

                      1. Nigella's cooking programs (Style Network?) are what got me going on her. Her desserts, especially.

                        I think Jamie Oliver's cookbooks are great (agree about the twit bit, tho)! I use his recipes all the time and the pix are beautiful.

                        The Chez Panisse Cookbook (by Waters and Paul Bertoli of Oliveto in Oakland CA fame) has quite a number of good Italianesque recipes and photos. Some are easy.

                        Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking is filled with gorgeous photos, but I the recipes are not beginner-type and I think it's out of print (You could prob get it at the Strand in NYC or online somewhere).

                        Buona fortuna!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: oakjoan

                          Oh, yeah...and the River Cafe cookbooks - can't remember the names of both the women who run the place...one is Rogers (Rodgers?)

                          Jamie Oliver got his start there. They have at least 3 cookbooks.

                          1. re: oakjoan

                            IMO, every kitchen needs a copy of Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking.