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Aug 27, 2005 06:21 PM

Best Italian Cookbook?

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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?

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  1. 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

      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

        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.



      2. 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

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

          1. re: coll

            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

              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)

              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)

                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. 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

                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

                  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. 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

                  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.


                2. 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)

                    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)

                      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

                        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

                          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

                            Thanks so much for all the fine tips!

                      2. re: Niki Rothman (Niki)

                        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)

                          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

                          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

                            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

                              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

                                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.