“How we cling to our myths, we English”. The year is 1963, and in the intro to the first Penguin edition of this venerable tome, David is describing the disdain with which her countrymen viewed the culinary cultures of both France and Italy when she set about writing it, in 1954. Research for the book elicited in her a potent sense of discovery, and incredulity: “How wrong they had been, from Mrs Beeton down to my own contemporaries. Where had they been looking? Had they been looking at all?” Given the entrenched supremacy of Italian cookery on our contemporary menus – and the ubiquity of this book on our kitchen shelves – it borders on surreal to think there was a time, pre-David, when we might have been so collectively deluded. The four books that follow here can each be described as definitive, and best-selling, but one suspects they’d be neither, in this country, were it not for Elizabeth David and her ability to find gold, and, with such compulsion, to share it.
Maccheroni con la Trippa – A traditional savonese soup uniting maccheroni pasta, tripe, onion, carrot, sausage, "cardo" which is the Italian word for Swiss chard, parsley, and white wine in a base of capon broth, with olive oil to help make it satisyfing. Tomato may be added but that is not the traditional way to make it. (Traditional ingredients: brodo di gallina o cappone, carota, cipolla, prezzemolo, foglie di cardo, trippa di vitello, salsiccia di maiale, maccheroni al torchio, vino bianco, burro, olio d'oliva, formaggio grana, sale.)
Pesto – Probably Liguria's most famous recipe, widely enjoyed beyond regional borders, is a green sauce made from basil leaves, sliced garlic, pine nuts, pecorino or parmigiano cheese (or a mix of both) and olive oil. Traditionally used as a pasta dressing (especially with gnocchi or trenette, it is finding wider uses as sandwich spread and finger-food filler)
End your meals, the Italian way! Panna cota is dessert is made with gelatin, cream and milk. Chilled and served with chopped pistachios garnishing. Panna Cotta, in Italian, means 'cooked cream.' This is a very easy and quick dessert to prepare for a party at home. With just a handful of ingredients, you can have this Italian delicacy and relish away!
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
"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.