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Cookbooks that work. A constantly updated list

This is quite an unusual first post of the year. I’ll leave my good intentions, our new projects, new recipes and the word I chose for 2019 to the upcoming posts. Today I want to talk about cookbooks, today I want to celebrate small victories rather than listing big fails. 

The year that we just filed has been rewarding, generous but extremely demanding. We had so many projects and goals, and we had to downsize our ideas, or postpone some of them to this year. But if there’s one thing I’ve been extremely proud of, that is our weekly newsletter. We kept quite a constant rhythm, sharing behind the scenes moments, personal updates and seasonal recipes, along with the new blogposts and the upcoming events. We believe in content, here and in the newsletter. 

In the last months I’ve been sharing also a new cookbook – or a food related book – a week. It was a way to keep trace of the new cookbooks I bought and cooked from, but also an excuse to go through my huge collection, picking old books and falling in love with them again. 

So we thought it was about time to collect all the books we’ve mentioned in the past newsletters in this post: these are cookbooks that work, the most precious species of cookbooks. I decided to add also some of the books I’ve written about in these ten years of blogging.

This will be a constantly updated post, as more titles will come: there will be new books shared through our weekly newsletter (by the way, you can subscribe here!), new food-crushes and new must-haves. In the meantime, as you go through this list, feel free to share your favourite ones in the comments, as I’m always in search of new cookbooks to read, cook from and review!

cookbooks that work

Cookbooks that work 

Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg

Everyone can bake fresh and fragrant bread every day, with just 5 minutes of work. This is the philosophy behind Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg new cookbook, Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is empowering and inspiring, just like Zoe’s feed on Instagram. The book is choke full of festive ideas, you would want to bake everything!

There are clear explanations about ingredients, techniques, basic recipes and brilliant adaptations, from challa bread to babka, from the simplest bread for breakfast to panettone.  I baked the white bread master recipe to make small burger buns and the challa dough, with which I made a coconut chocolate twist and fragrant twisted cinnamon buns. That’s the magic of this book!

Challa dough

The challa dough became a coconut and chocolate twist and fragrant twisted cinnamon buns.

Eat this poem, by Nicole Gulotta

This is not just a cookbook. Eat this Poem is a beautifully written book, with recipes you want to cook again and again, personal stories you relate to and poems to discover and love. With this book Nicole Gulotta helped me to appreciate poetry again, when I discovered how many things a good poem and a good recipe have in common. I’ve suggested this book to all my food lover and poetry lover friends. 

Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson

I admit the reason why I bought this book, Tartine Bread, almost seven years ago, was mainly for the stunning photography of Eric Wolfinger, which make this a book you want to keep around, to left through, to admire. Then I read it, I understood all the amazing passion Chad Robertson put in this book, to explain us how to create our sourdough starter, how to keep it alive, how to make a fantastic bread of out of it. This is where I found my go-to recipe for sourdough bread, this is where I found a good recipe for pizza dough, too.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nostrat

Samin Nostrat is a cook, a teacher, a writer for the New York Times. You might have seen her documentary on Netflix, something I highly recommend. She also published her first book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, an informative, amusing, illuminating cooking manual. Her idea is that we can cook consistently well if we learn to master these four cornerstones: salt, fat, acid and heat. This book is constantly shaking my beliefs. I learnt to cook thanks to my grandma’s example and through lots practice, with this book I’m finally finding a sense in everything I do and going beyond my limits.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

I made many recipes from this book, including the olive oil granola and the midnight chocolate cake.

The Christmas Chronicles, by Nigel Slater

If I have to choose one book to keep with me throughout winter and during the festive season, Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles would be the book. I share with Nigel Slater the same fondness for winter months and for the magical atmosphere of Christmas. I love every single page of it, every recipe I have made, each description, emotion, memory. It is a book to treasure. Last year I made Nigel’s dried fruit drinks for winter: apricot, orange and anise with brandy, figs and maple syrup with vodka and muscat prunes and sultanas. I made them at the beginning of November and they welcomed us home for the months to come. Nigel Slater is currently my favourite cookbook author, I am avidly drinking his words and learning at each page. 

Pride and Pudding, by Regula Ysewijn

Pride and Pudding is a sensitive, passionately researched, beautifully written, stunningly photographed, warm, witty book. Regula’s photos and writings are perfectly complemented by her husband Bruno‘s illustrations. They come as a package, as she said during her book launch in London. Put in Regula’s words, Pride and pudding tells you a fascinating story, the story of Pudding, savoury and sweet, giving the original recipes and historical backgrounds to each and every one of them. Celebrating the chefs to kings and queens, and the cookery book authors of times gone by.You learn well more than this. You learn how commitment and passion can produce a masterpiece. You learn interesting recipes, you discover facts and anecdotes about British history and, not less important, you have a collection of tempting recipes to try. They are authentic and true to their origins, a window open in a past time when there were no ovens, fridges, electric blenders. Regula opens your eyes on ingredients and techniques, giving you all the instruments to reproduce those recipes at home, to your satisfaction.

I made her Poor Knights of Windsor, one of the first recipes of the Bread puddings chapter. Day-old white bread slices are first fried in clarified butter then dipped in egg yolks and fried again until golden, then served with whipped cream, raspberry compote and Sack sauce. A real treat to begin the day with a positive note.

Books about food in general

The Land Where Lemons Grow, by Helena Attlee

The Land Where Lemons Grow is not a cookbook, is a charming excursion through history and through Italian citrus groves, from the giardini of the Medici’s villas, to the lemon terrazze in Amalfi or Lake of Garda limonaie up until the Conca d’Oro in Sicily. It explores the diffusion of lemons, oranges, bitter oranges, blood oranges, citrons and bergamots in the Italian life, culture and culinary heritage. Reading those pages you are intoxicated by the smell of zagara and by Helena Attlee’s sensual prose. It is an informative and evocative book.

From the markets of Tuscany: a cookbook

Our cookbooks

I love Toscana. Colours, taste and flavours

I love Toscana is my second cookbook, published by Food Editore. In this book there is all my family and my love for Tuscany and its products. There are our family recipes, those of my grandmother with which I grew up and that welcomed me home from school every day, the recipes that mum taught me step by step on our Sunday mornings spent in pyjamas, those of my great-grandmother, of Aunt Teresa and Aunt Silvana, of Gelsomino and of other relatives and friends who generously told me their lives through the alchemy of ingredients and secrets.

There is my family and our memories: the war experienced by my grandmother as a young girl in the countryside that I got to know only through her stories, there are the afternoons spent at the beach with my cousin Margherita and those in San Gimignano with my granddad Remigio and my aunt, the wooden trays made by my grandfather Biagio, the walks and the afternoons at home with Claudia and a bowl of custard.

From the Markets of Tuscany. A Cookbook

From the markets of Tuscany. A cookbook is our fifth cookbook, available in Italian as La Cucina dei Mercati in Toscana. Tuscan cooking is made at home, in grocery shops, in the local vegetable gardens and among the stalls of a market. This book is a collection of traditional and seasonal recipes and a guide to the best food markets in Tuscany. I will bring you with me on a tour through the most famous and lesser known areas of one of the most popular regions in the world, from the streets of Florence to those full of charm and mystery of Volterra, from Garfagnana to the wild Lunigiana, from the velvet hills of Val d’Orcia to those covered with vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti area. This book is an excuse to describe with pictures, words and recipes the historical markets like San Lorenzo and Sant’Ambrogio in Florence, the weekly markets, so longed for by everyone in small villages and towns, and the organic markets of local producers. There are also the coastal fish markets and the little huts of fruit and vegetables to be found along the road in Maremma.

Divided into 12 chapters, the book presents the typical dishes of each area. There are the traditional breads, from the bland Tuscan bread, made without salt, to the chestnut flour bread of Lunigiana and the potato bread of Garfagnana. Many are the meat dishes, including game – wild boar and hare for example – and quinto quarto, offal. We ventured also to the coast to add the best fish recipes, from the cacciucco in Livorno to the whole fish baked with vegetables in Maremma.

Memoirs

Toast, by Nigel Slater

Memoirs are probably my favourite expression of food writing. You do not follow a chronological order as in an autobiography, but you choose a unique perspective through which you will tell your story. Food is such an interesting perspective when it comes to Nigel Slater. He is one of my favourite chefs and writers, and after reading his heartfelt, touching memoir, Toast, I love him more than ever.

‘My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead. This is not an occasional occurrence. My mother burns the toast as surely as the sun rises each morning.’

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin

Then I stumbled upon this article on the New York Times, I discovered a woman I now admire, a food writer whose books are now on my bed table. She makes me feel normal, both in the way I live my life and in the way I cook. Laurie Colwin is an American novelist, born in Manhattan, who published many short stories and wrote for Gourmet Magazine. Her passion for food writing was second only to the pleasure of sharing that food with friends. She also published two collections of essays, recipes and memories, Home cooking and More home cooking

Her books are light, funny, but in the same time you can find many ironic or deep reflections among easy recipes and warm memories. Laurie Colwin is a woman you would like to call a friend, the one that passes you recipes hand written on a slip of paper, the one that makes you believe you can make it just right even in your tiny and poorly equipped kitchen. She doesn’t take herself too seriously – after all she is writing about food, not saving the world. She is fun, genuine, spontaneous, a burst of pure energy, a real source of inspiration.

She describes herself as a homebody in the first pages of Home Cooking, and I can relate to every single word:

“Unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home. (…) I love to eat out, but even more, I love to eat in. The best dinner party I ever went to was a black-tie affair to celebrate a book, catered by the author’s sister. When the food appeared at this party I could scarcely contain my delight. It was home food! (…) The thing about homebodies is that they can usually be found at home. I usually am, and I like to feed people.”

Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser

Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52, is a brilliant food writer. She has a striking imaginative language – the salted water for pasta which should taste like seawater and the spaghetti al dente, that are like biting into a new piece of gum, are just two of the many sentences I underlined and learnt by heart. I was also incredibly influenced by her approach to food and recipes. In one of the chapters of her book, Cooking for Mr. Latte, which is also a food lover’s courtship, she explores the concept of having a cooking repertoire.

It has been the most nourishing food for thought, as it made me reflect on my own cooking repertoire, on the identity you slowly shape adding recipes to your favourite list, on the never ending and vital process that brings you to introduce new recipes.

“When you make a dish again and again, altering it to your liking, it becomes an expression of your aesthetic, of your palate, of who you are. And when you serve that dish to guests, they come to understand you a little better. Elizabeth told me that she thinks of a cooking repertoire as a way to stay connected to all who are important in her life. She uses recipes from friends and family, as well as her own. Without a handful of recipes to start you off, cooking seems overwhelming.”

A home-made life, by Molly Wizenberg

Man, she knows how to use words! Light, witty, ironical and fun, she tells you recipes interwoven with her personal life, she shows you with vivid images why you will eventually find yourself in love with a recipe, and it happens without fail. After a few pages of her book, A Home-Made life, or blog posts you consider Molly one of your friends, you find yourself sharing the same memories and emotions.

One of the first recipes of her book is a banana bread, I read the recipe smacking my lips and bookmarked it. After a few days I made it. It’s the kind of thing that begs to be cut into big, melty slices while the loaf is still hot… and so I did. 

Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg

Delancey has this powerful force, it’s packed with recipes which demand to be enjoyed with the people you love. Molly shares the kind of food which makes you feel immediately welcomed and loved, a food which nurtures your stomach, makes your belly happy and your soul warmer: fried rice with pork and kale, sautéed dates with olive oil and sea salt, meatloaf. She gives you a method, ideas on how to serve the dish, occasions, she holds your hand in the kitchen, but she’s there to laugh with you, too, and help you create a memorable dish. She sincerely cares for you. Then you have a story, a good one, a story which makes you reflect, laugh, sometimes shed a tear.

I made her chilled peaches in wine. Simple as you can imagine reading the recipe title, these peaches give their best the day after, when they get translucent and boozed up with the wine.

Cookbooks for Italian food lovers 

The Talisman. Italian cookbook, by Ada Boni

Il Talismano delle Felicità, better known abroad and translated into English as The Talisman, Italian Cook Book by Ada Boni. The original version dates back to the 1929, it was the bible of the perfect housewives until a few years (better say decades) ago: it was usually a gift for the young and unexperienced brides in their wedding day, a good omen for happiness at the table and in the couple. Ada Boni knew all. Ada Boni is a witty woman, she’s a lady from another era, yet her recipes range from traditional Italian dishes to more international ones, clue of a curious approach to cooking. I recognize in her intros Jane Austen’s subtle irony, they have the same way of talking to landladies and young women of marriageable age: light-earthed and fun, though always appropriate. I tried her stuffed carrots, her cookies, and many other recipes, which all came out fantastic. For those who like old-fashioned recipes, for those who are not scared by a good scoop of butter, for those who want to live another time through recipes and witty comments.

Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well, by Pellegrino Artusi

His Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a book first published in 1891, has come to be recognized as the most significant Italian cookbook of modern times. Pellegrino Artusi is ahead of his time and chose for his book recipes that today, after more than a hundred years, perfectly embodies the contemporary spirit. This is what happens with classics, they never cease to amaze, they have always a contemporary appeal. Alternative flours that will satisfy even those who present intolerance to gluten, a few simple ingredients that do not overweigh the preparation, a very modern and fresh taste, not too sweet. Sometimes you look everywhere to find the inspiration, and it’s there, in the book that my grandmother received as a wedding gift on the day she got married, the same book that we browse together every time we need to check a recipe or procedure. For those in search of a basic book on Italian cooking, for those who want to learn to cook from the basics, for those interested in bits of history, daily life and humour nicely intertwined with recipes. 

Twelve. A Tuscan cookbook, by Tessa Kiros

The first cookbook I bought in my twenties, saving money from my first grown-up salary, is Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam, followed after just a few days by two more books of the same author, Falling Cloudberries and Twelve, my first Tuscan cookbook. All her recipes are truly honest, and the stories and Tessa’s gentle and simple approach to food made me discover a new dimension in cookbooks. With Twelve you’ll spend twelve months in Tuscany, discovering seasonal ingredients and authentic recipes. For Tuscan lovers, for those who appreciate a seasonal approach to cooking, for those who love also a good story behind a recipe.

Italian Food, by Elizabeth David

She is one of the most important and inspired food writers of the twentieth century. I started reading her books a few years ago, her writing captured me instantly: it is extremely sensuous, it involves you with the use of the five senses, it evokes vivid and powerful images in front of the readers’ eyes. You run through her pages, enjoying her delightful memories of Mediterranean afternoons, unexpected lunches in the South of France and picnics in the English meadows. Even a simple omelette becomes important through her words and well deserves two full pages, weaved with humor, practical advice and scents of butter. Her book on Italian cooking, Italian food, is vivid, precise, inspiring and true to the authentic tradition.

Recipes from Tuscany. Traditional Home Cooking, by Paolo Petroni

Il grande libro della vera cucina toscana is one of my reference books when it comes to cooking tuscan food. This book is available in English as Recipes from Tuscany. Traditional Home Cooking: Yesterday’s Flavours for Today’s Taste. This is probably the most comprehensive collection of Tuscan recipes. Petroni covers each and every area of the region, giving insights on ingredients and traditions unknown to many.

cookbooks that work

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This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Oh Giulia thank you! i love when food people I admire list the books they like! Just read Home Cooking this week and now I want to read everything Laurie Colwin ever wrote. So funny, so real, so familiar. looking forward to checking out some of the others. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a game-changer…and her same series on Netflix is beautiful.
    Wishing you delicious foods, and plenty of time for reading, in 2019. 🙂

    1. Ciao Susan, happy new year!
      After “Home Cooking” you have “More home cooking”, still as lovely and warm and real as the first one. I’d be curious to read also her novels, I am sure I’d love them, too!

  2. I’m fascinated to discover the 1891 book with science in the title. Very interesting to think of such a domestic art being taken seriously at this time. I guess a lot of it is connected to the introduction of the cast iron range and how that changed cooking into something more akin to the laboratory (although today we don’t think of it like that).

    1. Hello Susan, that is a book to read and cook from. My grandma passed it on, and we still cook recipes from there, and they all work. Many of them are modern, they do not look like they have more than one hundred years!

  3. Cara Giulia, un splendido Buon Anno 2019 a te e ai tuoi!
    Beyond all the wonderful books that you have noted and lovingly (I so admired Laurie Colwin and met her many years ago in New York) described, I did not see Diana Henry mentioned on your list as her “Simple” and “A Change of Appetite” cookbooks are absolutely splendid. and worth reading and using. Also, have been enjoying “Acquacotta” by Emiko Davies, a special collection of recipes from la Costa d’Argento, the “Silver Coast” of Tuscany; truly a window into a lesser known area on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
    As a perfect Italian classic from the Milanese, who has been living in the UK for a lifetime, Anna Del Conte, “Entertaining all’ Italiana” and also her “Secrets From An Italian Kitchen” should be on everyone’s kitchen bookshelf. Her memoir with special recipes “Risotto With Nettles” is a profound pleasure to read, and read again!
    Looking forward to more of the cookbooks you and others enjoy.
    Ciao dal Chianti, con un abbraccio.

    1. Ciao Olga, buon Anno a te!
      Diana Henry is one of my favourite cookbook writers, I have many of her cookbooks and they will end up here soon! I love her “Salt Sugar Smoke: How to Preserve Fruit, Vegetables, Meat and Fish”, every year I make her gravlax salmon.
      Emiko has gorger cookbooks, too!
      As for Anna del Conte, I have her Risotto With Nettles, I’ll read it soon and I’m sure I will love it.
      Un abbraccio!

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