My sister just moved into her first apartment and is settling into the kitchen quite nicely--I'd like to get her a great book, something like a cookbook with essays I suppose, that will introduce her not only to the cuisine of Italian cooking, but also the philosophy behind it--something that will teach her more about the general concepts than this or that recipe (although recipes are always a good thing for new cooks). Any suggestions?
(If only Mario Batali himself came in book form)
I'm not sure this is what you have in mind, but a landmark book on the feasts and festivals of Italy that include recipes is Carol Field's "Celebrating Italy." It has more information on the traditions and history of the feasts than it does on cooking technique, and many of the recipes really aren't for beginners, but it's a great read.
Another classic, which has more emphasis on technique, is Lynne Rossetto Kasper's "The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food."
And, of course, for great recipes, you can't go wrong with any of Marcella Hazan's books, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" first among them.
But Batali DOES come in book form!
How about "Molto Italiano"? I love that book, and his voice is all over it.
His Food Network show should come as a pack of DVDs, but I don't think they do.
The other author/book I like, less intimidating than the great Marcella Hazan, is
Biba's Taste of Italy:
Recipes from the Homes, Trattorie and Restaurants of Emilia-Romagna
by Biba Caggiano
It has quite a bit of narrative about places and vibe, and some very doable recipes.
Italian books I like are:
1. Made in Italy: Food and Stories,Giorgio Locatelli
2. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy, Frances Mayes
3. Italy the Beautiful Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Italy by Press Knapp, Lorenza De' Medici Stucchi, and Patrizia Passigli
4. Eat Right, Eat Well, The Italian Way by Edward Giobbi
And.... anything by Faith Willinger.
Look for The Silver Spoon Cookbook, which came out in its first English translation around 2 years ago. It is to Italians what Betty Crocker or Fannie Farmer is to Americans -- a huge collection of the "must know" recipes in Italy from all regions, and has been given to Italians setting up their households for decades.
I think the best book on Italian cooking, for recipes, ingredients, method and philosophy, is Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.