"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.
"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
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