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Best Classic Italian Cookbooks?

I'm wondering what people think is the best classic Italian cooking text. Not really looking for books by Batali and Hazan (though I'm interested in your thoughts on those), but really looking for a classic Italian text, in the vein of Joy of Cooking or Escoffier. I'm especially interested in:

Il Talismano Della Felicità (Boni)
La Scienza in Cucina E L'arte Di Mangiar Bene (Artusi)
Il Cucchiaio d'Argento

Anybody use any of these? Are they still practical to use?

Bonus question: What's the one Italian cookbook you'd bring to a dessert island?

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  1. I use Silver Spoon (Cucchiaio d'Argento) 3-5 times per week. In my opinion this is the Joy of Cooking of Italy (better even). I see it everywhere as well- homes, and in every bookstore (Italian bookstores don't usually have large cookbook sections, as recipes are generally passed down generationally here, and rarely sourced elsewhere). For those who aren't fluent in Italian the English translation is commendable (I've compared my English version to my SIL's Italian).

    Italian cooking is generally simple enough that a good text will always be relevant. Perhaps there are a few more gelatin dishes than I would consider "necessary", but in a text with this many recipes, a few that seem out of date hardly detract from the whole.

    My edition has lived in three different countries with me (including Italy) and if I end up on a dessert island, it'll be there as well. Big enough I might actually be able to use it as a raft even.

    1 Reply
    1. re: carrieitly

      Great! Any thoughts on how it compares to Il Talismano?

    2. While they may be too contemporary for your question, all of Giuliano Bugialli's cookbooks are worthwhile, especially "Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking."

      My desert island Italian cookbook is "Italian Family Recipes from The Romangnoli's Table."

      1. Pellegrino Artusi's La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiar Bene remains my favorite. It's not really a useful recipe book but is such a delightful read, it's worth returning to periodically to read aloud as fables: the story of the good-for-nothing prodigal son returned home for his mother's cappelletti, for example.
        The Casa Artusi has the full text in pdf available if you read Italian (and 1890's bourgeois Italian in particular).
        The translation by Murtha Baca is very well done; strongly recommended.

        However, is not practical to use if you're looking for functional recipes with clear instructions. If you get bent out of shape by the idea of the quantity "nonnulla" (literally, a not nothing; a trifle), then this is not a book for you. If you read cookbooks as inspiration rather than as rulebooks then you will really enjoy Artusi's chatty descriptions of classic dishes.

        The Cucchiaio d'Argento is indeed the Joy of Cooking equivalent of Italy. A good basic reference.

        I haven't read Il Talismano Della Felicità in a while but I remember it as a rather dated 1960's housewife manual. Perhaps I'm off base, or perhaps it has been updated.

        4 Replies
        1. re: ciccia bomba

          Thanks! Yes, the parts of Artusi I've read online are great, but like you said, maybe not that practical on a day to day basis.

          From what I understand Il Talismano was first published in 1929 and was indeed intended for housewives, but my hope is that it reads as "classic" rather than "dated." Maureen Fant has made reference to it as one of the books that got her started, so perhaps she has the answer...

          1. re: ian_pink

            my problem with the comprehensive books is that Italy does not have one monolithic cuisine it has quite a number of distinct regional cuisines whose dishes are not picked up in these books at all. I expected my Silver Spoon to be much more helpful filling gaps than it has been - so far its just a lump on the shelf. I feel much happier with my Hazan, Kasper, Bugialli, Schwartz, Totnabene,Field, Giobbi etc who collect and present outstanding regional recipes rather than with these basic compilations.

            1. re: jen kalb

              Yes, you make an excellent point. Perhaps cataloging cuisine in a tome is in some ways an inherently French approach. I wonder... You name some authors I'm not familiar with, some with several books--care to name some of your fave titles?

              1. re: jen kalb

                Silver Spoon is actually quite comprehesive in covering regional dishes. However, since it's not organized by region it can be difficult to distinguish some of the older, less well-known regional recipes unless they actually have the name of the region in the recipe (which many do).

          2. I've been using Il Talismano Della Felicita for a few years now - (Italian version) and it is my go-to reference for classic Italian cuisine. I absolutely love it - it's got just about every traditional italian dish listed. At first, it was a little difficult to use (for me, at least) because it is written on the assumption that you already know how to cook most things and how the finished dish should be. Being a non-Italian trying to learn to cook classic Italian, I was constantly having to ask my Italian husband (or in-laws) for more specific guidance when I felt the book was a bit vague. But now I am a more competent Italian cook, and no longer need for everything to be spelled out for me (thankfully!). The book is great, I dont consider it outdated at all, despite the original print date. The classic Italian dishes are still prepared the same way.

            I have also seen La Scienza in Cucina e L'arte di Mangiare Bene - and was tempted to buy it. But I decided that it probably covered just about everthing my Talismano did. I don't know Il Cucchiaio d'Argento, so can't comment.

            Another book I've really enjoyed, and learned a lot from, is Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gossetti della Salda (sorry, but I don't know if there is an English version). It breaks Italian cuisine into the various regions and touches on the more famous/traditional dishes of each region.

            I hope this helps!

            1 Reply
            1. re: msmarabini

              Gosetti, not Gossetti, and YES. It is the one comprehensive Italian book I use frequently both for reference (I keep it in my study) and to cook. It has practically everything, and the recipes are never overlong and are easy to understand. I have heard unconfirmed rumors of an English edition (and if one doesn’t exist, I'm volunteering to translate it: publishers take note!), but there is no way Anglo editorial practice (which I deeply respect) wouldn't change it beyond recognition.

            2. My favorite is Lynn Rossetto Kasper's, The Splendid Table. It's focused on Emilia-Romagna. I suppose the book is too new to be considered a classic, but it's reached that level in my house.

              2 Replies
              1. re: joedeluca

                I love the beautiful Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. I've had it for at least 20 years and bought it at the Strand in NYC.

                It's divided into regions and the only thing wrong with it is that some of the photos, especially of desserts, are really ugly. Dunno if the color was off in the printing or the desserts chosen for photos were brownish, beigeish, graying and white with a sort of burnt sienna for red.

                Otherwise, it's really terrific.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  I love that book too. It was the first Italian Cookbook I bought with my own money. Since my family is Southern Italian in origin, I used it to make many Italian meals from other regions of Italy. I got mine at the old Barnes and Noble that used to be on 6th Avenue and about 18th street oh so many years ago!

              2. I'd also go with Silver Spoon.

                What I like is that it's not just a book of classic Italian dishes - but it's also a classic book for Italian cooks. Means that you get some recipes that are simply not Italian, in the same way that any general recipe book might include recipes from other countries than the native one.

                I'm not familiar with The Joy of Cooking so can't make a comparision.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Harters

                  I have to agree with the posters who say that Silver Spoon is just a lump on the book shelf. It had just never caught my imagination. Knowing its history, I wanted to love it but I can't seem to work up enough excitement to fall for it.

                2. I use Artusi a lot. Probably more than any other single Italian cookbook I own. Artusi is not for beginners. It's from the 1890's, and doesn't have the precise details that we're accustomed to in modern cookbooks. But if you're an experienced cook, it's worth owning and using. I sometimes follow Artusi recipes as they're stated; but often just use them as a jumping off point for ad lib variations. Artusi will help you gain an understanding of Italian cooking fundamentals, and can help broaden your horizons in Italian cuisine. I disagree with other commenters who say Artusi isn't practical. For experienced cooks who don't need a lot of hand-holding, it's very practical. I'd also recommend "Recipes from an Italian Farmhouse", by Valentina Harris. This is a gem of a cookbook. It has regional recipes, and is great especially if you want to get beyond the cliches that are in every other Italian cookbook and restaurant. (This book is a part of a publisher's series, which also includes "Recipes from a French Herb Garden", "Recipes from a Spanish Village". They're all gems.) Lastly, if I was asked to recommend one Italian cookbook, for both beginners and experienced cooks, it would be Rao's. Everything I've made from that cookbook has been a winner. Rao's provides a great place for any cook to begin their exploration of Italian cooking. And it's small enough so as not to be overwhelming like the encyclopedic Silver Spoon. One anecdote: I tried twice cooking Veal Marsala using recipe from Hazan. Both times were dismal failures. (And I don't often produce dismal failures.) Every time I've cooked this dish following Rao's recipe the results have been perfect.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: zerothworld

                    We regularly use several recipes from Valentina Harris' 1990 book "Italian Regional Cookery". It accompanied her BBC TV series and also usually identifies a recipe to a particular region.