In the past ten years I’ve been listing my Christmas gifts to family and friends on a booklet and I’ve discovered I usually shift from year to year from foodie gifts to cookbooks. I know, I know you should always choose a gift according to the receiver’s likes, expectations and desires, but as long as he loves cooking, cookbooks are always a great idea.
Personally, unwrapping a new cookbook is always an exciting experience, as I do not receive just a bunch of recipes, but a new approach to cooking, a journey through ingredients and traditions, a collection of stories and memories. Choosing a cookbook is like giving a passe-partout to an unknown world of senses, where you are temped to get lost.
This is why I listed here ten of my favourite cookbooks for Italian food lovers. It is not a comprehensive list, you’ll find many more books browsing through the blog, but this is a steady starting point.
Please share in the comments your favourite cookbooks, I can’t wait to add new titles to my collection!
10 cookbooks for Italian food lovers
Ada Boni, The Talisman. Italian cookbook. 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.
Pellegrino Artusi, Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well. 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.
Tessa Kiros, Twelve. A Tuscan cookbook. 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.
Pamela Sheldon Johns, Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking. Pamela Sheldon Johns teaches cooking classes and workshops throughout Italy and is the author of sixteen books, many of which are dedicated to the Italian cuisine. But these few words are reductive to describe her, one of the most important connoisseurs and ambassadors of the Italian gastronomic culture abroad. The book is engaging right from the cover and the kind of paper and binding used, since it recalls old time books. As from the title, it is about cucina povera, peasant cooking, the art to do with what you’ve got, the cooking of the times when you do not throw anything away, but you were able to cook with just a few ingredients hearty and tasty dishes to support the farmers working in the fields. The recipes belong to the times when the local produce was not a fashion issue, but a reality and a need, when you cooked with what was in the pantry in a given time of the year. A book for those who appreciate the magic of a piece of stale bread and the wonder of a careful long cooking, for those who love cucina povera and want to discover the true spirit of a country.
Elizabeth David, Italian Food. 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 is vivid, precise, inspiring and true to the authentic tradition.
Judy Witts Francini, Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen. Judy is an example, she taught me how to be a Tuscan cooking class instructor, dealing with the nitty-gritty of this new profession. She gave me self-confidence and courage, I owe her so much. This is her cookbook, every recipe is tested and they work as magic. A real insight on Tuscan cooking, a book born from her cooking classes. This book is a must have for all the Tuscan food lovers, for those who love a direct matter of fact approach to cooking, for those who want to learn to cook from a great woman.
Marcella Hazan, The Essential of Classic Italian cooking. Almost twenty years ago, with the publication of The Classic Italian Cook Book, Marcella Hazan introduced Americans to a whole new world of Italian food. I fell in love with her cookbook when I found this article on the Chicago Tribune. She was born in Cesenatico, a coastal town in Emilia-Romagna, and arrived in New York City in 1955 armed with doctorate degrees in science, and a limited knowledge of English. She didn’t know how to cook. Hazan became “by necessity, a cook” when she married Victor, she wrote later, grabbing an Ada Boni cookbook and diving in. So, she has now become the most representative author of Italian cookbooks in America starting from an Ada Boni cookbook. How not to love her? This is a comprehensive book on Italian cooking, something you can approach to with great confidence, as you know you will learn how to master time and ingredients, pairings and menus.
Domenica Marchetti, The glorious pasta of Italy. Domenica, as her name foretells, grew up in an Italian family: her mother was born on the hills around Chieti, on the Adriatic coast. She spent her summer holidays in Italy with her mother’s three sisters, all great cooks. She has a true passion for simple, honest food. You can almost touch this great respect for ingredients and traditions in her recipes and through her words. I was captured by her work, by this genuine love for food. A special mention to the fresh pasta chapter in her book, enriched by step-by-step instructions and plenty of variations on the classic egg pasta. For all the pasta lovers out there, for those who still worship carbs – yes I do-, for those searching for a comprehensive cookbook on all the wonders of Italian pasta.
Emiko Davies, Florentine: Food and Stories from the Renaissance City. It is still on pre-order, but I’ve followed Emiko’s work through these months, I had some sneak-peek on her recipes, with inspiring photos and drawings. I know how much she loves Florence and I can assure you that this exact love is poured into her book. Personally, I can’t wait to add it to my Tuscan cookbook list. For those who admire Emiko’s blog and her elegant and warm style, for Florence lovers and for those who appreciate a well designed book.
Giulia Scarpaleggia, I love Toscana. Yes, it is my book! Just allow me a little bit of self-promotion before Christmas. This is my first book on my Tuscany, I am now working on another project which I can’t wait to share. For those who love grandma’s food and are searching for a foodie guide to Tuscany.
Regula Ysewijn, Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings, Savoury and Sweet. Regula is a dear friend, I could not skip to mention her first cookbook on preorder on Amazon. In the words of Jamie Oliver, who has endorsed Pride and Pudding: “My god, it’s a truly wonderful thing of beauty … a very tasty masterpiece!”. We’ve been chatting for months, I still have to hold the real book in my hands but I already know the feelings I’ll experience when it will happen: I’ll be proud for the success of a good friend, excited to see her commitment and passion translated into words, photos and drawings, tempted to cook all her recipes while learning important bits of history and tradition related to English food. This is a book for British food and culture lovers, as I am, for those who love investigating the history behind a recipe, for those who are equally fascinated by words and photos.