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Best Italian Cookbook?

Niki Aug 27, 2005 06:21 PM

What's you absolute favorite Italian cookbook?
Perhaps the most careful preparations of the old favorites. I looked at Mario Batalle's "Simple Italian Food" and there were just too many, kind of weird, nouveau recipes featuring like octopus or offal, squash blossoms - things I'm just not going to be making for dinner, although I'd enjoy them in a restaurant. So that's not "simple" to me. I'd like the definative bracciole and veal parmegiana, the best ragu - though maybe not with a million ingredients, the best tiramisu, the most reliable potato gnocci. I'm sure you know what I mean.
Is this your kind of food?
If so, what are your favorite cookbooks?

  1. d
    Deborah B Sep 21, 2008 07:56 AM

    Some of my favourite recipes come from Biba Caggiano books. One of the first cookbooks I ever bought close to 30 years ago was Biba's Northern Italian Cooking and there are recipes I still use today such as her bolognese and spaghetti primavera. Other favourites come from her Trattoria Cooking such as the gnocchi with Leonida's sauce and the chicken cacciatore. I also have Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, also good. I recently made the bolognese recipe from that book and it was very good. Batali's Molto Italiano is a more approachable book than his Simple Italian Food. Giada de Laurentiis's books are good but a little less traditional than Marcella and Biba. Not from an Italian cookbook but an excellent recipe for spaghetti and meatballs can be found in Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate.

    1. r
      Remag1234 Sep 19, 2008 09:11 AM

      Having watched Battali on TV, I put him to the bottom of the list. Ingredients are difficult for the average Joe/Jane to find as they are only available through wholesalers or HIGH priced specialty stores. IMO, that's not what good cooking is about unless you're a SNOB. My favorite cookbook[s] are from Marcella Hazan, Mary Ann Esposito and David Ruggerio [his books are out of print]. My #1 is D Ruggerio, #2 is MA Esposite, #3 M Hazan. IMO Southern Italian is Italian as I love anything with tomato sauce. Northern Italian is too indicative of French, German, Swiss cooking with the white, brown and pink sauces. Of late the cooking phases of Fusion to me is a bastardization of food, ie. Chinese is mixed with French. Being a purist I want the real thing, no substitutes..

      4 Replies
      1. re: Remag1234
        MMRuth Sep 19, 2008 09:16 AM

        Can you expand on what ingredients that he calls for are hard to find? Thanks.

        1. re: MMRuth
          JoanN Sep 19, 2008 10:07 AM

          I had been surprised to see that this was a not uncommon complaint about his books from some of the reviewers at amazon.com. I picked up “Molto Italiano” at the library yesterday and in reading through it I see that many of the recipes include one ingredient that might possibly be difficult for many people to acquire. A few examples: cardoon stalks, salt-packed anchovies, fregula, salt cod, mortadella, limoncello, olive paste, truffles, dried cherries, grappa and malvasia, juniper berries, fennel salami, pomegranate molasses, oyster mushrooms—that kind of thing. And that doesn’t include such primary ingredients as squab, quail, rabbit, goat, venison, pheasant, cotechino sausage, blowfish tails, octopus, tripe, etc., that probably aren’t available in lots of local supermarkets.

          1. re: JoanN
            MMRuth Sep 19, 2008 10:15 AM

            Interesting - thanks. And those look like they would be "key" ingredients.

            1. re: JoanN
              Gio Sep 21, 2008 08:48 AM

              I think any metropolitan area would have stores which sell most if not all of the ingredients you list. For instance, Malvasia is nothing more than Madeira, and fennel salami is dried or fresh sausage which has fennel seeds, mortadella is a very ordinary Italian cured sausage and I see it in all the supermarkets in my area. I buy it in an Italian salumaria, but it is readily available. Ethnic markets should have all of the meats and fish you listed.. I suppose that someone living out in the country or small towns and totally inaccessble to specialty markets may be stumped, but a quick Wikipedia or Google search ought to supply substitutes.

              I guess what I;m saying is, "where's there a will, there's a way. "

        2. c
          ChiliDude Mar 17, 2007 04:03 AM

          My wife of 47 years is of Italian heritage, I'm not. I've seen enough pasta for 3 lifetimes. I cannot understand how Italian restaurants can charge an arm and a leg for pasta dishes. Anyone can throw 50 cents worth of extruded semolina durum wheat into boiling water, and cover it with smashed tomatoes.

          I personally do not frequent Italian restaurants. When I am forced to go, I order stuff other than pasta. Fegatini con funghi is what I order.

          As I mentioned in my previous posting of this thread, I bought Sophia Loren's book for the pictures.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ChiliDude
            pitu Mar 17, 2007 10:48 AM

            I'm generally not into Italian restaurants either, since I cook a lot of that at home and I like my red sauce better.
            BUT what I do want when I go to Babbo is a housemade fresh pasta with a complex little sauce made of perfect ingredients, like the mint love letters. The rest of what's on the menu, I make out of the man's books.

            Which in the two years since this thread was posted, have become some of my favorite Italian cookbooks. Babbo, and Molto Mario. I still love Essential Marcella and Biba Carivaggio.

            There is no one *best* anything, especially with Italian cooking. And to the original post, all those peculiar ingredients are what my great granny was eating in the old country, not nouveau!

          2. chefaltieri Mar 16, 2007 08:58 PM

            coastie: Word! best Italian cookbook, ever!

            2 Replies
            1. re: chefaltieri
              Canada Eats Mar 16, 2007 09:27 PM

              I second (or third) the Silver Spoon. I'd almost call it an encyclopedia-cookbook. It's got just about everything you could possibly want (and lots you never knew you wanted).

              It's particularly useful for those nights when you find yourself with a haphazard assortment of ingredients to use up, since many of the recipes are indexed according to main ingredient. For example, in the vegetable section, each vegetable gets a couple pages, with anywhere from 5-10 different ways to prepare that vegetable.

              Love it!

              - Lea

              1. re: Canada Eats
                kkbriggs Mar 17, 2007 07:23 AM

                I'll 4th the Silver Spoon. It takes some getting used to but it is an incredible cookbook. There's a reason it's been around (albeit only in Italian until recently) for such a long time!

            2. coastie Mar 16, 2007 08:38 PM

              the silver spoon

              1. f
                FLEUR Aug 31, 2005 10:19 PM

                Without a doubt MARCELLA HAZAN The Classic Italian Cookbook is the one I recommend.
                I use it more than any other cookbook in my collection.
                Marcella's recipes are delicious, authentic, and easy to follow. She is the "Julia Child" of Italian cooking.
                I like Guiliano Bugialli for the history and authenticity. A great read, but the recipes...not so great.

                1. c
                  Cari Aug 31, 2005 12:13 PM

                  The River Cafe Cookbook is an excellent book of simple, tasty recipes. Fantastic pictures, too. The restuarant is in London, but the chefs have gathered the recipes from Italy, and they are wonderful.

                  The Classic Food of Northern Italy, by Anna del Conte and The Food of Italy, Region by Region, by Claudia Roden are also great books. Both del Conte and Roden are exceptionally knowledgable food historians as much as cookbook writers, which adds a lot of interest to their work.

                  1. t
                    TrishUntrapped Aug 29, 2005 06:52 PM

                    Oddly enough, my favorite italian cookbook has become The Soprano Family Cookbook. This was not intentional. It was given to me as something of a joke because I am a pop culturist, and cooking enthusiast...so voila two hits in one.

                    The recipes are terrific, and super easy to follow, whether you are making buccatini or cannoli.

                    Oh, it was really written by Michele Scolione (sp??) a real italian food expert, so it delivers.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TrishUntrapped
                      Niki Aug 29, 2005 08:18 PM

                      Bravo! I totally agree. The Soprano Family Cookbook is great. But then I love the "Sopranos". Another great book that's full of excellent old-school Italian recipes is "The Goomba's Guide to Life" by Vincent Schirippa, who plays Bobby Bacala on the show.
                      He talks at length about how Italian Americans feel about food, and his description of what a REAL Italian dinner should be is not to be missed.

                    2. f
                      Food Tyrant Aug 29, 2005 11:06 AM

                      Then there is a wonderful book by Susan Hermann Loomis called the Italian Farmhouse Cookbook. Quite a nice read with easy country recipes.

                      Paul Bertoli's Cooking By Hand is an amazing cookbook.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Food Tyrant
                        Funwithfood Aug 29, 2005 11:42 AM

                        All of her books are fantastic! She gets tried and true recipes from the best cooks in a given region. She is my favorite cookbook author.

                        1. re: Food Tyrant
                          Niki Rothman (a.k.a. Niki) Aug 29, 2005 12:40 PM

                          What do you like about the Bertolli book?

                          1. re: Niki Rothman (a.k.a. Niki)
                            Junie D Aug 29, 2005 05:05 PM

                            Cooking by Hand is meticulous and insightful in the way the Zuni Cafe Cookbook is, and beyond. He delves into flavor and technique in depths that are probably not at all what you are looking for in an everyday cookbook, but be sure to read it one of these days.

                            1. re: Niki Rothman (a.k.a. Niki)
                              Food Tyrant Sep 3, 2005 01:34 AM

                              His precise mastery of vinegar production, salumi, knowledge of tomatoes, etc is just beautiful to read about. If you are ever going to make salami, then get this book.

                              He tells stories of his family and relates it to the food. It is a book that is very personal and coming from a master chef, reveals insights into little things like the use of Faro or Spelt in pasta.

                              I enjoyed reading this book very much.

                              1. re: Food Tyrant
                                cgfan Mar 16, 2007 08:36 PM

                                I'd like to 3rd the vote for Bertoli's "Cooking by Hand", a masterful book and a true original. I've posted elsewhere on Chowhound on my take of this book, which can be found here:


                          2. t
                            The Ranger Aug 28, 2005 02:13 PM

                            I don't have just one but a series that I enjoy experimenting with, always producing excellent results.

                            Nick Stellino's Glorious Italian Cooking: Romantic Meals and Menus
                            ISBN: 155788398X

                            Nick Stellino's Mediterranean Flavors
                            ISBN: 0399143408

                            Nick Stellino's Glorious Italian Cooking: Romantic Meals and Menus from Cucina Amore
                            ISBN: 0399141715

                            Nick Stellino's Passione: Pizza, Pasta and Panini
                            ISBN: 0399146571

                            I like the formatting of the recipes, the layout of each book, and the stories that give each recipe that personal touch.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: The Ranger
                              mamaciita Mar 17, 2007 07:12 AM

                              My most-used cookbook (for actual recipes as opposed to reference) is Mediterranean Flavors. I have never been disappointed with it.

                              1. re: The Ranger
                                oakjoan Mar 17, 2007 10:58 AM

                                I could never get into Nick Stellino because I saw him on PBS and it always sounded as if he had a phony Italian accent (like from a bad sitcom). Of course that's not fair, but it was my first impression and I could never watch him again.

                                Later I seem to remember that the restaurant at the beginning of each show was just a prop and he didn't have a restaurant.

                                I've never seen his books. Will have to check them out and see if I can get over my prejudice.

                              2. p
                                pitu Aug 28, 2005 11:46 AM

                                Marcella of course, the older ones, not the newer ones.

                                Biba's Taste of Italy by Biba Caggiano focuses on the Emilia-Romagna region. I've never had a bad dish out of it, and it's quite straightforward in the recipes. For me, with Biba you get the taste of Marcella without the knuckle-rapping!


                                11 Replies
                                1. re: pitu
                                  Niki Rothman (Niki) Aug 29, 2005 12:51 PM

                                  I've had Marcella Hazan's original book for years.
                                  What do think about her ragu? The only spice in it is nutmeg.
                                  Very interesting, no?

                                  1. re: Niki Rothman (Niki)
                                    pitu Aug 29, 2005 01:13 PM

                                    that's funny - I'd never make it because I don't much care for nutmeg, and I have a family-imprinted ragu making method all set up.

                                    I use the cookbooks primarily for inspiration, and for things that I don't know how to make without a recipe, to expand my horizons.

                                    how IS it?!

                                    1. re: pitu
                                      Niki Rothman Aug 29, 2005 08:27 PM

                                      Actually, I haven't made the nutmeg recipe - it is the only ragu recipe in her first book too. So maybe it's great. We should try it.

                                      But please, please, please, when you have time maybe, start a new thread and post your own personal ragu recipe. And I'll look forward to trying yours.
                                      Somehow nutmeg doesn't sound right, but you never know...

                                      1. re: Niki Rothman
                                        pitu Aug 29, 2005 10:16 PM

                                        I've posted the summer raw sauce in the past couple of weeks, but the way I cook is very, er , CIRCUMSTANTIAL. The raw sauce relies on a ton of basil and a pinch of chili - that's the only important thing.

                                        Tonight I made a Biba caccitorre variation - heat up 1/4 cup of nice olive oil, lightly brown 2 huge garlic cloves and remove them. Add 4 (dried and salt and peppered) chicken thighs, and put on the lid. They sort of poach in the oil. You turn them once or twice in about 10 minutes. The fire is fairly low for this. Remove them and add 2/3 of a large onion (I used a vidalia) or however much onion you want. Add a couple of fresh tomatoes, diced (the recipe calls for sauce, or canned, but it's summer!), once the onion is soft. Let that cook a bit, then add 1/2 c white wine and put the chicken back in the pan. Cook that for another 30 minutes, so the sauce gets thick. A few minutes before you serve, add 12- 14 sage leaves, sliced up. Salt and pepper to taste.
                                        I also had left over brown rice, and the chicken was very juicey AND I was out of bread, so I added the rice to the pan. YUM!
                                        We had it with salad (heirloom tomato with basil, small amount of raw onion THIN sliced, balsamic, olive oil, parmesean, lettuce)

                                        Talking about cookbooks made me look in Biba and make this dish, so THX NIKI! I wouldn't usually put sage and tomato together. See if your library has Biba's Taste of Italy, or get it on Amazon for $13!

                                        1. re: pitu
                                          Niki Rothman Aug 29, 2005 11:48 PM

                                          Thanks so much for all the fine tips!

                                    2. re: Niki Rothman (Niki)
                                      smokey Aug 30, 2005 10:05 AM

                                      The thing about Marcella's recipes is that they rely on really high quality ingredients. The preparation and other ingredients/spices let the quality shine. if you're using mediocre ingredients, her spicing and preparation won't hide any of the mediocrity. If using high quality ingredients in a way that highlights their natural deliciousness seems uninteresting, then Marcella probably isn't the cookbook for you.


                                      1. re: Niki Rothman (Niki)
                                        veggielover Mar 17, 2007 11:31 AM

                                        I think her ragu recipe is the best. It is the ragu by which I judge all others. I also think that her recipe for pesto is the best I have ever eaten.

                                      2. re: pitu
                                        Carb Lover Aug 29, 2005 04:12 PM

                                        I agree that Marcella's older books are better than the newer. "Essentials..." seems to be the most praised here. I have it from my library right now and think it's a great reference for simple authentic Italian dishes. I bought a used copy of "Marcella Says" a while back and haven't found it too exciting.

                                        To the OP: you might take a look at Mario's newest book, "Molto Italiano." I believe it's more home cooking than restaurant stuff. Lidia Bastianich hasn't been mentioned yet, and I find her PBS show very informative, engaging, and soothing...she knows her stuff and has great technique. I think her latest book is "Lidia's Family Table." Any hounds have opinions on this book?

                                        1. re: Carb Lover
                                          Will Owen Aug 29, 2005 04:31 PM

                                          I love Lidia - I think of her and Marcella somehow as members of the same family, with Marcella the cranky, uncompromisingly opinionated one and Lidia the peacemaker (not that I would dare to say this to either of them!)

                                          Both of these women and Ed Giobbi (oh, and Jack and Luisa Scott, the pasta book people) are wonderful teachers of Italian cooking practice. OTOH, my most frequently consulted collection of recipes is in Ada Boni's "Regional Italian Cookbook". These are the core recipes for hundreds of regional specialties, set out in a format of maybe a dozen per page - a gold mine, all very well indexed. I also have a big thick book of what's basically the Italian version of "Continental Cuisine", or restaurant/hotel-type recipes for home use. It's called "Luigi Carnacina's Great Italian Cooking", published by Abradale Press. There's no pub date, no ISBN #, it was printed in Italy, and a friend left it at our house by accident and later told me just to keep it. It gets a pretty good workout, too...

                                          1. re: Will Owen
                                            pitu Aug 29, 2005 05:51 PM

                                            I love the Lidia PBS series too (you describe it well!)

                                            I see Lidia as the sister Marcella would be in a death-grip. multiyear fight with (over the provolone or something. ; )), and Biba as their sister who would stay out of it . . .

                                            One of the Lidia books was the present I gave to upgrade from 'Marcella Says' my not-quite-foodie relatives. Thanks Carb Lover for providing the name on that -- the later picture books are just milking her good name.

                                            My serious-about-southern-Italian food cousin enjoys "Cucina Di Calabria: Treasured Recipes and Family Traditions from Southern Italy" by Mary Amabile Palmer

                                            1. re: Will Owen
                                              Sharuf Mar 17, 2007 05:49 AM

                                              I was given Ada Boni's Talisman cookbook (ca 1950) way back when I was fresh out of school and living in North Beach, SF, in the heart of the Italian neighborhood. Within a few blocks were a sausage maker, butcher shop, delicatessens, bakeries, ravioli factories, etc. Wonderful neighborhood! (The early 1960's were a wonderful time to be young, frisky, and living on Telegraph Hill.)

                                              The friend who gave me the book was married to an Italian, and they moved back to Florence where she ran a lovely shop full of local decorative items and collectibles. She said that the book has been a classic for generations of Italian home cooks. I refer to it from time to time, but I mainly love it for the sentimental value it has for me.

                                        2. c
                                          Chimayo Joe Aug 28, 2005 05:26 AM

                                          My favorites are:

                                          1. "1,000 Italian Recipes"--Michele Scicolone(Best range of recipes from all over Italy. I'm a big fan of the 1,000 recipes series published by Wiley)

                                          2. "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"--Marcella Hazan(Northern Italy biased but still a good range of recipes)

                                          3. "Naples at Table-Cooking in Campania"--Arthur Schwartz(As the title suggests, it's Naples and surrounds)

                                          4. "The Splendid Table"--Lynne Rossetto Kasper(Focusing on the Northern Italian cooking of Emilia-Romagna)

                                          5. "The Fine Art of Italian Cooking"--Giuliano Bugialli(Tuscany biased)

                                          They're all pretty utilitarian--not much photography or waxing poetic about the food in them("Splendid Table" has more of that than the others.)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Chimayo Joe
                                            curiousbaker Aug 30, 2005 11:35 AM

                                            I want to second the recommendation for The Splendid Table. It is a beautiful book if you care about that sort of thing (generally I don't), but more importantly the recipes I've tried have been great. I also like the cultural culinary information; the background information is more interesting and less swoon-y that a lot of cookbooks.

                                            Link: http://seasonalcook.blogspot.com

                                          2. o
                                            oakjoan Aug 28, 2005 03:30 AM

                                            I do like Marcella's 2 Vol. Classic Italian Cooking, but I find I use Patricia Wells' Trattoria cookbook quite often. Lots of simple and really good recipes - most of the classics are included.

                                            I also love Edward Giobbi's book, Pleasures of the Earth. There's a little gardening, discussion of raising chickens and ducks, some storytelling, and many good recipes. He has a whole section on pestos...traditional, mint, coriander and parsley, pistachio, pine nut, tomato tuna and nut sauce, etc. His book is not all Italian, but it's a real treasure....if you can find it anymore.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: oakjoan
                                              OldAFcook Oct 12, 2008 09:23 PM

                                              My wife (first generation Italian-American) has Edward Giobbi's "ITALIAN FAMILY COOKING" Copyright 1971. $8.95 USD

                                              It has a recipe for SALSA RAGU (Ragout Sauce) that uses Salt Pork, Ground Beef & Pork, Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Basil, Butter, White Wine, Tomatoes, and Paste.

                                              My wife made it a couple of times, but it is not one of our favorites; though she has made some very delicious meals from this book over the years. This is the only Italian cookbook in the house.

                                              I, having been an Air Force cook in the early 1970s, have used many recipes from the book. I must admit that I frequently ad lib when I cook. If you have ever seen an Air Force recipe, you would know why (boring). Also, my first teacher never used a cookbook in her life.

                                              We met in 1979 and one of the first things I noticed looking through her cookbooks, was this one was very used. It was not the most used in her collection since her late husband was from South Carolina and preferred southern cooking.

                                              Needless to say her grown children were not fond of my cooking based on Canadian French and Road Island Italian cooking background. My late (1903-1978) mother loved Italian cooking and could duplicate any recipe after one tasting. She was the same with music. Too bad she never made it past the third grade. She was only 4 feet 1 inch, but raised 8 children. The old Home had no running water or electric until 1951. That old wood stove served many a fine meal for our large family.

                                              99% of what I know of cooking I learned watching Mom over the years. I, being the youngest of eight, was the last to leave home, so I saw her make thousands of meals.

                                              1. re: OldAFcook
                                                oakjoan Oct 12, 2008 10:21 PM

                                                Hey! OldAFcook: I hear that he lives (or lived, don't know if he's still alive as he was a pal of Craig Claiborne of the NYT), on Long Island and had a garden and made his own smoked meats and sausages, etc.

                                                What wonderful books he produced.

                                            2. c
                                              coll Aug 27, 2005 09:52 PM

                                              Sophia Loren has an Italian cookbook that is like your grandmother's recipes, simple and exquisite at the same time, I haven't made one thing that wasn't superb.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: coll
                                                MMRuth Aug 28, 2005 03:55 AM

                                                I was given a copy of this and didn't expect much, but I agree with Niki - recipes are great.

                                                1. re: coll
                                                  ChiliDude Aug 28, 2005 07:41 AM

                                                  I agree, Sophia's cookbook is wonderful, especially the photos. Being of the male gender, I bought the book for the pictures. Sophia is just a couple of years older than I am.

                                                  1. re: ChiliDude
                                                    coll Aug 28, 2005 10:24 AM

                                                    Yeah, I originally bought the book for my sister-in-law who is a big fan, and every time we went over she made something unbelievably delicious from the book, which was very unusual for her. I kept raving so she bought it for me. My husband and I are big fans too, and the pictures and story of her life are a great bonus.

                                                  2. re: coll
                                                    Niki Rothman (Niki) Aug 29, 2005 12:55 PM

                                                    Thanks to you I just ordered Sophia's "Recipes and Memories"
                                                    But I see she wrote several cookbooks. Which one do you have?
                                                    Isn't she just the definition of female grace and style?

                                                    1. re: Niki Rothman (Niki)
                                                      coll Sep 1, 2005 07:45 AM

                                                      HI Niki, sorry I just caught your post. That's the book I have, you will love it! I also just got an OLD movie of hers, La Mortadella or I think the English title is Lady Liberty, it was made here in the 70s and has some people in it that are pretty famous now, but it's a cute little indy film from that time. It's about her coming to this country to get married and trying to bring a mortadella through customs. She is the best!and she can cook!

                                                  3. v
                                                    Val Aug 27, 2005 07:14 PM

                                                    I would nominate anything by Marcella Hazan; I own the Essentials of Italian Cooking and I love it...many others here have other cookbooks by her and adore her recipes...she rules!

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Val
                                                      Marge Aug 27, 2005 07:24 PM

                                                      I agree, Marcella's books are wonderful. For what you are descibing I would also highly recommend Rao's Cookbook, fairly easy recipes for "red sauce" standards from the (in)famous NY restaurant.

                                                      1. re: Val
                                                        chardgirl Aug 27, 2005 10:25 PM

                                                        My family loves The Essentials... by "La Marcella" as my husband calls her. "What would La Marcella say?" he asks me as I try to make a tomato/bread salad with the wrong kind of bread... He loves her attitude, I love her recipes, and hope she's not looking when I tweak them to match what I have in the kitchen.


                                                        Link: http://dogbert.abebooks.com/servlet/S...

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