Book Corner: 10 Italian Cookbooks We Love
Choosing favorites from your cookbook collection is a bit like choosing a favorite child, but here at Serious Eats, we will take just about any opportunity to talk about awesome sources for recipes. Here are 10 of our favorite Italian cookbooks—books that introduced us to some of our favorite dishes to cook at home. (Warning: acquiring these books is likely to increase your pasta cravings.)
Check out the list and tell us: what's your favorite Italian cookbook?
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
My favorite Italian cookbook? That's a hard one. Though I love many of Mario Batali's books and use them often, my go-to book is one that Mario himself often cites, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Her roast pork loin braised in milk never fails to produce moans of pleasure from serious eaters any time of the day or night. It's good for any occasion, from Sunday family meal to Saturday night dinner party."—Ed Levine, Serious Eats Overlord
The Silver Spoon
I'm going to have to go with the classic Silver Spoon book. Yes, it's got a lot of problems—the recipes are maddeningly under-detailed and under-tested. The instructions rely on vague timings instead of specific visual cues (how do I know my Coda Di Rospo Con Salsa D'Acciughe looks the way it's supposed to after baking for 30 minutes? What if my half lemon has less juice than yours?). There aren't a whole lot of pretty pictures, nice illustrations, or clear instructions on how to select ingredients, implement techniques, or any of the other details that make for a great, informative cookbook. What it does have, on the other hand, is a ludicrously comprehensive index (over 3,000 recipes) that spans throughout Italy. I'd never rely on it for a usable recipe, but as a database for ideas and as an encyclopedia on Italian dishes, it can't be beat."—J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer
Rustic Italian Food by Marc Vetri
"Being the cookbook guru around these parts, I am the proud owner of more cookbooks than I can count. The Italian section of my library is home to many, many cookbooks that are near and dear to my heart. So whittling it down to just one is a daunting undertaking to say the least. I could easily choose Domenica Marchetti's The Glorious Pasta of Italy for its comprehensive understanding of all things pasta related and unique Abruzzese dishes, or Mario Batali's latest, Molto Batali, which teaches you how to cook Italian-style (for a gathering of ten plus.) Or if we're going to get into pizza, Jim Lahey's My Pizza is absolutely a must for making awesome pies at home.
But (drumroll please) the winner for me is Marc Vetri's Rustic Italian Food. Every one of his Philadelphia restaurants puts out the sort of Italian food that I want to eat all of the time: simple and elegant, with big, true flavors that showcase not only his passion for all things Italian but also do justice to the top tier ingredients that he sources. Rustic Italian Food is a guide for home cooks to replicate Vetri's unique and really wonderful take on Italian cooking at home. His Rigatoni with Swordfish, Tomato, and Eggplant Fries really is what Sicilian food is all about. Vetri just gets it."—Caroline Russock, Cook the Book editor
Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini
"For starters, Urban Italian is a beautiful book. Flip through the pages and the rustic-urban feel and dynamic colors just pop off the pages. You want to invite yourself to every meal Andrew Carmellini is cooking. The recipes are completely accessible with complex, rich, exciting flavors. I come away with recipes that are always filed under: "make this again."
Perhaps one of the simplest dishes in the book, but the one I revisit the most, is the whipped sheep's milk ricotta. You can make this in your sleep. Just whip up the ricotta with some good whole milk and it becomes ethereally fluffy. Accented with sea salt, fresh herbs, and olive oil, it's ready to be slathered all over crusty bread. I serve this at just about every party I have. Another favorite is this cauliflower with brown butter, pear, sage, and hazelnuts. It has to be one of the best ways to eat cauliflower. "—Erin Zimmer, National Managing Editor
Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux
"Cooking with Italian Grandmothers is so much more than a cookbook. I read it cover to cover, enthralled by the stories of these women; their lives and their food. And the dishes are just what you'd expect: earthy, comforting, delicious. Favorite dish: spaghetti con pomodori scoppiati (spaghetti with burst tomatoes). This recipe pulls off that Italian magic trick where a recipe with almost no ingredients tastes deliciously complex. The key is searing whole and halved cherry tomatoes over high heat until they burst. Their juice, along with pureed sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic, form a simple summer sauce."—Carrie Vasios, Sweets Editor
Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman
"The books that guide you in your very first steps of learning to cook, that help you overcome fears and fall in love with the process, always earn a special place on the shelf. So it is with Cucina Rustica, the book that taught me that a recipe called Spaghetti with Oil and Garlic (the very first Dinner Tonight column I wrote) could be the most delicious thing in the world, and that most recipes would probably improve if you took out a few ingredients. This is a general lesson of Italian cooking that has informed the way I choose recipes. Yet while Cucina Rustica's recipes suggest simplicity, they are pitched perfectly between approachable and challenging. So I've never been bored cooking from it.
My favorite dish in the book is definitely the pasta carbonara, which taught me that you don't need heavy cream to make a great version. It's slightly more involved that the simplest of recipes with only pancetta or guanciale, cheese, and egg, but the changes are worth it: slivers of caramelized onion for sweetness, a little white wine for a balance of acidity, and parsley for freshness. I've made this recipe more than any other since I learned how to cook."—Blake Royer, Dinner Tonight columnist
Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
"It's hard to choose a favorite Italian cookbook: as a child, I used to swear I could eat pasta every day and never get tired of it. And my go-to pasta bible, Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook, is sadly out of print. (Plus, Erin snagged Urban Italian! Bah!) But the other Italian cookbook I turn to over and over again is Jamie's Italy, which has gorgeous matte-finish pages and so many appealing, unfussy recipes. The pasta e ceci (chickpea soup) is a cold-weather staple for me: it's rich and savory, with lots of rosemary and a fresh, fragrant handful of basil. The dish is best with homemade chicken stock, but you can use canned chickpeas, so it's totally easy to make if you have stock in the freezer."—Maggie Hoffman, Drinks Editor
The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed
"This book by Diane Seed completely changed how I approach pasta. Before, I just assumed that the more ingredients stuffed into a sauce the better it had to be. Also, if you cooked those ingredients for a long, long time, it'd get better after each passing minute. But Diane Seed taught me restraint and economy. It's all about taking a few ingredients, mostly vegetables, and letting them shine. Cook them too long and they lose their essence. I'd always heard that there were hundreds of kinds of pasta, but this book taught me that there are just as many sauces. Favorite recipe: Spaghetti Alla Boscaiola, which you can find on Serious Eats here."—Nick Kindelsperger, Chicago Editor and Dinner Tonight columnist
365 Easy Italian Recipes by Rick M. O'Connell
"Ok, so it may not be the most sophisticated and elegant book, but this little friendly checkered cookbook brings me instantly back to childhood.
Though I am a Long Island Italian, we weren't a big Italian-cooking family. But when we did it, we did it simple and right. My mom recently told me that her meatball recipe, which is THE standard for me, is from this happy little book."—Leandra Palermo, Sales & Marketing
Molto Gusto by Mario Batali
"This might look like your run-of-the-mill glossy celebrity chef vanity cookbook. But instead it's a collection of simple, utterly doable recipes, mostly culled from the menu of Batali's casual pizza and pasta joint Otto. The best recipes here are the vegetable antipasti, which have always been my favorite selections on Otto's menu. Favorite dish: Black Kale with Ricotta. A handful of hearty, virtuous ingredients offset by the rich, creamy cheese. And it works just fine with regular kale."—Ben Fishner, Support