The Best Italian Cookbooks

Find our top 9 picks for the best Italian cookbooks of the past 25 years.

Top 9 Italian Cookbooks

Photo: Randy Mayor

Top 9 Italian Cookbooks

Italian food is so beloved by Americans that you’d think we all had grandmothers back in the old country, making fresh pasta and gargling vino di tavola while shooing the lazy cat away from the bowl of homemade ricotta. It’s a cuisine whose American interpretation gets closer to its roots as the American palate gets more sophisticated, and now we hunger for the particular specialties that define each region: fresh fava beans, nutty farro, succulent roast pork, silky handmade noodles with scant but flavorful sauces. Cooks looking for authentic, delicious Italian recipes will find great pleasure in the pages of these award winners.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

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Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking By Marcella Hazan, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Hardcover. $35; 688 pages

This tome from beloved cooking authority Marcella Hazan is nominally a compilation of two of her previous books, but it’s actually much more than that. Hazan retested, updated, and in most cases, completely rewrote the recipes so that each is more focused and delicious. Some recipes were deleted, with new ones swapped in. The result stands, 20 years later, as a sort of Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking. If you had to choose only one Italian cookbook for your collection, this is it—the 500-recipe catalog of all foods Italian.

GIVE THIS TO: The cook who stocks her shelves with culinary bibles. —Adam Hickman

Biba’s Italy

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Biba’s Italy

Biba’s Italy: Favorite Recipes from the Splendid Cities  By Biba Caggiano, Artisan, 2006. Hardcover. $30; 320 pages

This restrained book, a series of love letters to Italian cities in recipe form, is compact (just over 100 recipes), clear (recipes have simply translated names like Tuscan Farro Soup), and elegant (retro typography, duotone photos).

Recipes run from simple peasant fare to more elaborate preparations, and all feel authentically of the place. Overall this book feels pleasantly contemplative: a volume you’d like to peruse while sipping wine under an olive tree in the Tuscan hills, perhaps, or at least while dreaming of that on your couch.

GIVE THIS TO: Italophiles and bibliophiles. —Tiffany Vickers Davis

Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey

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Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey

Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardinia  By Efisio Farris, Rizzoli, 2007. Hardcover. $40; 272 pages

Sardinia is one of the last frontiers for Italian cooking in America. Bottarga, the island’s dried, briny mullet roe, has popped up on high-end cheffy pastas in recent years, but the long, rich history of Sardinian cuisine remains foreign to American palates. Let this book be your delicious introduction.

Be sure to check out the Sardinian translations of the recipe titles—a nice touch.

GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who want to push the boundaries of Italian flavors. —Tim Cebula

Verdura

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Verdura

Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style By Viana La Place, Grub Street, 1991. Paperback. $25; 320 pages

A book well before its time, Verdura proposed 21 years ago the amazing idea that vegetables should become the center of the meal. It still offers inspiring takes on all things fresh. Vegetables are given the antipasti treatment, as well as turns in salads, soups, pastas, pizzas, frittatas, and more (including fruit-based desserts).

GIVE THIS TO: Produce lovers, market-goers. —Tiffany Vickers Davis

Jamie’s Italy

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Jamie’s Italy

Jamie’s Italy By Jamie Oliver, Hyperion, 2006. Hardcover. $35; 319 pages

Amiable Brit Chef Jamie Oliver peeks into everyday Italian households where food remains so central to family. He tours the country, introducing us to home cooks, farmers, and producers whose stories captivated and inspired him to create this book. His conversational writing makes you feel like you’re along for the ride—and what a ride it is. “I want you to experience [the spirit of Italy],” Oliver writes. “I want you to walk past the wall of footballing posters in Palermo and chuckle because you’ve seen it here. I want you to go and find the old woman making polenta in the town of Bari in Puglia ... I want you to go and see Dario the butcher in Panzano in Chianti and shake his hand.”

GIVE THIS TO: Jamie fans who want a taste of Italian. —Deb Wise

Rustic Italian Food

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Rustic Italian Food

Rustic Italian Food By Marc Vetri with David Joachim, Ten Speed Press, 2011. Hardcover. $35; 291 pages

Two things come through with great force in this book: Philly-based chef Marc Vetri’s exuberant, opinionated voice (“If you are thinking of using part-skim mozzarella, stop thinking”) and his love of cooking. (“People tell me it’s a pain in the ass to make pasta. For me, there is nothing more relaxing.”) Simple, hands-on, from-scratch cooking is the deal here. Most of the recipes hew to the notion of “fewer ingredients, better quality,” although some require a serious time investment.

GIVE THIS TO: Ambitious cooks who love diving into projects. —Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Twelve

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Twelve

Twelve: A Tuscan Cook Book   By Tessa Kiros, Whitecap Books, 2005. Paperback. $30; 415 pages

The 12 main chapters of this book chronicle what’s best and freshest in Tuscany each month of the year. April brings strawberries, which Kiros puts, interestingly, into a savory risotto capped with Parmesan, while November means myriad meats. Within the monthly framework, the nearly 250 recipes manage to cover appetizers, main courses, vegetable side dishes, and desserts. Almost all of the recipes are simple and straightforward, with short ingredient lists. Orecchiette ai Broccoli, found in the February chapter, uses only seven ingredients yet achieves remarkable depth from garlic, red chile, and anchovies.

GIVE THIS TO: Cooks looking for seasonal inspiration. —Adam Hickman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

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Cooking with Italian Grandmothers

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily  By Jessica Theroux, Welcome Books, 2010. Hardcover. $40; 295 pages

For one year, Jessica Theroux traveled through Italy, landing in eight different regions and hunkering down in the homes of 12 remarkable home cooks. Each grandmother is reputed to be the best cook in her area, and Theroux devotes a chapter to what she learns: traditional bread ways from Rafaella in Calabria; expert rabbit butchery and cookery from Bruna in Tuscany; and handmade tortelloni filled with pumpkin and crushed amaretti from Giovanna in Lombardia. Each woman “taught something about the power of food to connect us; to ourselves, our history, our land, our culture, to our past and to the present moment.”

GIVE THIS TO: Armchair travelers in search of cooking mentors. —Vanessa Pruett

Lidia’s Family Table

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Lidia’s Family Table

Lidia’s Family Table By Lidia Bastianich, Knopf, 2004. Hardcover. $35; 419 pages

Charming and practical, this book takes you into the home of one of the country’s greatest Italian cooks. Photos show us the Bastianich kitchen, where children and grandchildren happily cook and eat.

This is a book as much about instruction as it is about possibilities. Almost half of the content is devoted to pasta, polenta, and risotto; the rest is rounded out with salads, soups, vegetables, and meat. Recipes are simple and delicious, and, importantly, they work.

GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who appreciate hands-on learning. —Julianna Grimes

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