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 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
The quickest way to discover and fall in love with Italy is at the table. Italian cuisine prides itself on simple delicious combinations of the finest, freshest ingredients available. For example, fresh ricotta with tartufo; mozzarella di bufala with basil, tomato and extra virgin olive oil; and San Daniele prosciutto with ripe melon are all extremely simple combinations which are much loved in Italy.
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.
From inception, this was destined to be a classic. Del Conte details – and in 1987 it was the first time anyone ever had – all of Italy’s regions, ingredients, techniques and dishes. The organisation by alphabetical order makes it as perusable and practical as an actual dictionary. If you consider that at that point Italy, as a unifed whole, was a mere centenarian, wrestling the diffuse, intensely regional nature of its geography and its cuisine into something this digestible really took some doing. A herculean effort, lauded as loudly abroad as it was at home.
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.
"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.