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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
            http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/00601...

            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.

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

            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.