"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
"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
"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.
Each Italian region and town is proud to have its trademark dishes and ingredients. It is important to be aware that the ingredients used by Italians are highly place specific. Everyone in Italy knows to get their balsamic vinegar from Modena, their mozzarella di bufala from Campagnia, their truffles from Piedmont or Umbria, their cannoli from Sicily, their artichokes from Rome, the most delicious pizza from Naples, the best bolognese meat sauce from Bologna, their saffron risotto from Milan, and divine pecorino from Pienza.
“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.
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