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The best Italian cookbook

I would like to give an Italian cookbook as a gift. I'm wondering--what is your favorite? It has to be something that the user will actually cook from. I'm looking for your best, most used book both for everyday cooking as well as dinner parties and family get togethers. This is for my brother, who loves to cook and is not afraid of a little work in the kitchen either!

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  1. My choice would be Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cooking.

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/325712 - master thread from when it was (the first) "Cookbook of the Month" on this board.

    You might also want to look at the threads about various Batali books, which we cooked from this fall:

    Mario Batali: Babbo, Molto Italiano & Simple Italian Cooking

    Good luck!

    1. My very favorite Italian cookbooks are those written by Edward Giobbi: "Italian Family Cooking" and "Eat Right, Eat Well--The Italian Way". I've had both since publication and feel he truly understands Italian cooking. The recipes are easy to follow, plus since Mr. Giobbi is a reknown artist there are also his illustrations, and those of his children which make the books sweet to read as well.

      Additionally I do like the Mario Batali book, "Molto Italiano", and Lidia Bastianach's, "Lidia's Italian Table." But my Very Faves are the Giobbi books.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        Thanks - I've never heard of him and will have to try to look at some of his books.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I agree with Gio. I have had a couple of Giobbi's books for ages. I think he lives on Long Island (if he's still alive) where he has a huge garden, chickens, outdoor oven, etc. He was always championed by Craig Claiborne of the NYT and Pierre Frenay (sp?).

      2. I second Marcella Hazan's "The Essentials of Italian Cooking". I also like some of the recipes in Giadas books. They are simple to make with ingredients that are easy to find.

        1. I don't think there is a "best" Italian cookbook, but Hazan, Bastianich, and Batali are all excellent choices. And if you don't mind giving classics out of print, look on line for Vincenzo Buonassisi's book on pasta. I myself keep going back to Hazan.

          1. You definitely can't go wrong with Hazan or Lidia Bastianich, my personal favorite.

            I don't have this one, but I would love to get it for Christmas - The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon. Amazon's description says, "First published in 1950 and revised over time, Italy's bestselling culinary 'bible,' Il Cucchiaio d'argento, is now available in English."

            Also, I picked this one up cheap at my local borders on the bargain table - Culinaria Italy: Pasta, Pesto, Passion by Claudia Piras. I liked it so much I ended up buying all of the other Culinaria books they had.

            6 Replies
            1. re: theuninvitedguest

              I have the Silver Spoon, and while I like it, I prefer Hazan. The recipes in Silver Spoon are a bit lacking in details/instructions, and I found some of the quanties off. I do consult it and use it to compare recipes, but haven't cooked from it in ages.

              1. re: theuninvitedguest

                I bought the Silver Spoon but really, I wish I hadnt. It sits on my shelf like a big, undigestest lump. It may be a good basic tome but there is nothing inspirational about it.

                Marcella Hazan's books, on the other hand are both inpirations and very good cookbooks. they would be my top recommendation
                I also have owned the two Ed Giobbi books cited for many years - the Italian Family Cooking book has very good, simple recipes - the healthy cooking book got a little off-tracked by particular dietary recommendations re oils that are now out of date, but if you ignore that part, it is also good, although repetitious..
                Other books that I am fond of are (1) The Splendid Table, by Lynne Rosetta Kasper - about the high cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, which overlaps Hazan a bit, (2) Naples at Table, by Arthur Schwartz and (3) anything by Carole Field, but particular her Italian Baking Book.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  there are some gems in the silver spoon though. did you ever try the cold green beans salad - olive oil, mustard seeds, onions, some chili, vinegar - wonderful.

                  1. re: howler

                    Cool I will check it out. doesnt sound particularly italian, though.

                  2. re: jen kalb

                    I agree on the Silver Spoon. It's just sort of boring and uninspiring...

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      I agree with you on the Silver Spoon. I agree that it takes up too much space without offering anything interesting. It will be soon leaving so that I can fit in something better. It is a Betty Crocker kind of cookbook - without the pictures or extensive descriptions - just not very interesting, basic food.

                  3. I say Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cooking. The directions are very precise and I think the dishes are what people think of when they think of good italian food. I think that follwing her intstructions, you can easily master many of the recipes and become a great italian cook. She carefully explains matching sauces to pasta shapes which i think is helpful. I would say at least 10 of her recipes are part of my standard rotation now. The Babbo book is nice and hasa gret pictures but I think there are too many recipes that the average home chef may not make (ie things with boar meat, venison etc). With Hazans book, I think 99.9% of the ingrediants would be available easily everywhere.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cassoulady

                      Yes, it's the preciseness of her instructions, and discussions about ingredients that I think make this book particularly useful.

                    2. One more question: Do you think the book by Marcella Hazan is dated? Wasn't it originally published in the 70's? By dated, I mean kind of like the Silver Palate Books--I like them, but the recipes don't seem to be the kind of food i like to eat now a days.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mrs lilo

                        I don't think it's dated at all - I think it is pretty traditional Italian food. I believe in the 70s she published two books that were then more or less combined into this one. The only difference I can think of today is that perhaps a lot of ingredients are more readily available in the U.S. than they were 30 years ago.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          I agree 100%. I believe it had been two volumes at one point and now is printed in one volume. I think that it is just as relevant now as ever and the recipes, as the title suggests, are classics. Plating and presentation trends may come and go but a great bolognese, a prefect spaghetti carbonara or bucatini all'amatriciana never go out of style.

                          1. re: cassoulady

                            ditto. I believe the level of fat may be reduced a little in the "Essentials" version from the original pair, but there is nothing that screams "70s!" about these books, no raspberry vinegar or whatever - they are absolute classics.

                      2. 1. Marcella Hazan
                        2. Lidia Basitanich's Lidia's Italy (little travelogue with the recipes)
                        3. Mario Batali

                        1. Lynne Rossetto Kasper's THE SPLENDID TABLE is a wonderful book, and very user friendly. I use it quite a lot.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Tom P

                            I don't cook from it as much as I do her second book, "The Italian Country Table." The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. It's really great.

                            We make the "Potato Gatto" all the time.

                            1. re: jmckee

                              I love her second cookbook "Italian Country Table" and have made all the dishes in it. Great traditional, well-balanced recipes. I've given this book as gifts as well.

                          2. If your brother wants to understand Italian cooking as one of history's three great Cuisines, then he has to know Giuliano Bugialli and Marcella Hazan.

                            Giuliani Bugialli + Marcella Hazan = James Beard + Julia Child

                            Bugialli (a Florentine) set out to correct the idea rampant in America that, as long as you smothered something in tomato sauce, you were cooking Italian. That way of cooking overwhelmed all the diverse Italian regional cuisines here because, when the great waves of Italian immigrants arrived, many of their native staples and food items were no longer available to them. Bugialli made it his work to illuminate the U.S. about authentic Italian cuisine and is given credit in some quarters for changing the import market so that we now have access to a wide range of "real" Italian ingredients.

                            His recipes are user-friendly (I use them frequently and I don't have any background it Italian cooking) and he does a fine job of explaining the "whys and wherefores" of the cuisine. The Fine Art of Italian Cooking is worth the price of admission just for his American-friendly Pizza alla napoletano recipe--suddenly, I was a world-class pizza maker! ;-)--and the description of Maria De'Medici's wedding feast. But he also provides a lot of valuable information on authentic ingredients and traditional techniques.

                            I agree with all those who mentioned Hazan. So, these two--Bugialli and Hazan.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Steady Habits

                              I agree on Giuliani Bugialli. No one talks about him much, but he is extremely definitive and precise. Years ago he used to have a cooking show in Italian on one of the PBS stations in NYC, and I used to get a real kick out of watching him chop up things with a little paring knife. The best things was a video I had of him making pasta. This was in English and essentially, after he told you EXACTLY how to make pasta, he then said in his very accented English that if you didn't do it his way you'd have, "Lousy, horrible, homemade fresh pasta." That's him exactly -- my way or the highway, but I do find his recipes to be precise and accurate.

                              1. re: roxlet

                                Yes, I think Bugialli's Tuscan recipes in that book are very, very good - very evocative of the best traditional sort of Italian food with subtle flavors from the careful use of simple ingredients. Very diff from someone like Batali who goes for the WOW factor.

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  LOL, roxlet. I never saw that, but after reading your accounting, I think it might have been fun to have seen him doing a show with Elizabeth David, maybe a program called, "Two Decidedly Cantankerous Coots Who Nevertheless Know Their Stuff."

                                  And speaking of Elizabeth David, her Italian cb wouldn't be a bad choice, either.

                                  1. re: Steady Habits

                                    He was so much fun to watch in Italian on TV. In addition to his tiny paring knife, he used to put his ingredients in what we referred to as Granny's little cut glass bowls. It was very endearing despite the severity of his pronouncements. I'm Italian, but some of these Italian cooks can get a bit too reverential, IMHO. There are great recipes, but if you've ever traveled in Italy you know that recipes and ways of doing things can vary widely as you travel from village to village -- some only minutes away. That's the great thing about Italian cooking -- there is room for improvisation and for the cook to touch things is his or her own special way.

                              2. Biba's Italy by Biba Caggiano...favorite recipes from the splendid cities.

                                I've eaten at her fabulous restaurant and have used her book. Fail-proof recipes.

                                1. jfood's go-to Italian is easily Hazan's Essentials like others have mentioned. It has been a guiding force in jfood's kitchen for almost 30 years.

                                  Significant issues arise in casa jfood when there is no bolognes or canelloni in the freezer for jfood to eat after a long and late day.

                                  Is it dated? Absolutely not, there is trendy and there is perfect, Hazan is the latter. The recipes guide you through the recipe like a Guide Dog, and as you can tell by the avatar, jfood has the utmost respect for Guide Dogs. :-))

                                  1. Writing back to say THANK YOU for the replies, and due to the overwhelming support for Marecella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking I am going with that book! My order from Amazon is on the way, and I only hope that I am the recipient of a delicious meal derived from the book!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: mrs lilo

                                      You can't go wrong with Marcella. Buon appetito!

                                      1. re: mrs lilo

                                        I think you've made a good choice. You might, in the card, want to give the recipient the link to the Hazan COTM as well.