The thesaurus to Del Conte’s dictionary. At 2,000 recipes and counting, it is the enduring bestseller that lists every variant of baked sea-bass, every way with a shoulder of lamb, 17 different types of pastry and 14 distinct courgette sides … which is to say, it is comprehensive. The book started out in 1931 as a slim Milanese publication, and expanded with each new edition to incorporate ever more regions and ever more recipes. If David, in Italian Food, had to discard most of the material she’d collated, for sheer want of space, the Silver Spoon takes the opposite tack. Published in English in 2005, it is as heavy as a book subtitled Eating Is A Serious Matter ought to be, and bound only to get heavier.
"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."
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.)
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
This is where it all started, and by all accounts, it’s the best place to start yourself. Written in 1891, Artusi’s was the first cookbook for the home cook to be published in Italian. And to this day, you’ll be hard pressed to find an Italian home without a copy. Its relevance is in no way frustrated by its grand old age, as was duly noted by Emiko Davies in her recent Kitchen Encounters: the dishes are exactly what you’ll find at dinner tables and trattoria counters today. Artusi is the surefooted guide you can trust.
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
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