Book Reviews: Italian Cookbooks

I’m happy to announce the return of book reviews from Kristina Gill. Her book review column has proven to be quite a great lil resource for books, her selections knock it outta the ballpark each and every time. And having just released my own book, well, I’m realizing that one must share the booklove as much as possible. Take it away, Kristina!

I stumbled across a nice book 15 years ago called Sua Maestà, il Raviolo (“Her Majesty, the Raviolo”). It was a book about ravioli from every region in Italy. That book, in 1996, introduced me to Slow Food, and the Slow Food publisher in Italy. I have been a member of Slow Food Italy off and on since…longer than I can remember. I have slowly bought most of the Slow Food recipe books, as they’ve been released, region by region (most of them anyway), including the four monothematic volumes. A new one on Pasta was just released. I think these books are, hands down, the best Italian cookbooks out there (they have no pictures). They are thin paperback volumes, and include socio-cultural notes about the origin of the recipes, ingredients, and people. Nothing excessive, just a sentence or two, here and there explaining what’s what. The recipes are often from the osterie which appear in the Slow Food annual restaurant guidebooks. If you can read Italian, or even feel your way through it, they are worth having a look at, especially the monothematic or raviolo book.

If you can’t read Italian, but are looking for something authentic or just inspirational, there are a few choices out there which I believe produce great results that you will be happy with. That’s what this week’s reviews are about: great Italian cookbooks. This list is by no means exhaustive!! I have many others, but today, these are at the front of my section.

Italian Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, Steven Kolpan (Wiley 2011; photography by Francesco Tonelli)

Wiley has been doing the “At Home with the Culinary Institute of America” series for a while now. I think they are excellent books. This Italian cooking one is no different. It is a comprehensive collection of the most common Italian recipes– carbonara, ragù, polenta, gnocchi, antipasti of all sorts, soups, fresh pasta. This is a big book, kind of formal, but right on the money for your classics. This is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking.

The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Michael Joseph, 2009; Photography by various photographers, including Jonathan Gregson and David Loftus) This book offers a similar range of Italian classics, but a bit more modern if I may. The classics are interspersed with “typical” Italian preparations, mainly Tuscan. It goes beyond the sampling of dishes that a one time traveler may know and gets into the boiled octopus with potatoes, penne con stracotto (penne with beef braised in Chianti), and roast guinea fowl stuffed with lemons. That is to say, it gets into what you might find on the table for lunch on a Sunday afternoon at your Italian mother-in-law’s house (not my Italian mother-in-law, though). Of enthusiastic note, this has a section on gelato (gelato al gianduiotto anyone?) and desserts including strudel, panettone, and ricciarelli the Siennese almond meringue! Again, this is for someone who wants a solid reference of Italian cooking, home style.

Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo (Quadrille, 2011; Photography by Christopher Terry)

This is a book to accompany the BBC series of the same name, which I’ve never seen. However, how can anyone resist an Italian cookbook with a perfectly baked Neapolitan margherita pizza on the back cover?? Two giants of the Italian cooking scene in the UK take readers on a feeding frenzy around Italy. In addition to the recipes which have little overlap with the previous two titles, you have lots of notes on socio-cultural aspects of Italy and its food and dining culture. Like The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book, this book has a very ‘home cooked’ feel to it, which I like a lot. This doesn’t have the range of recipes that the River Cafe book has, but it has an excellent and numerous selection. This would be the perfect book for someone leaving on a first time trip to Italy, or someone who has just returned and wants to keep the memory alive.

Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph 2005; photography by David Loftus).

This book is Jamie’s interpretations of the food he ate and cooked with people during a trip around Italy. I wouldn’t say it has an “authentic” feel to it, at the same time, I think it is solid enough to stand in this round up of reviews, and because of Jamie’s ability to transmit his enthusiasm, it’s one of my favorite non-Italian Italian cookbooks. Jamie’s no-nonsense style of cooking and Italian food are a natural marriage. That’s why I recommend this book to anyone who wants to feel quite at ease about trying out Italian food, but who doesn’t want to get bogged down in detail. Jamie is also fun, has a great writing style, and David Loftus shoots all his books. What’s not to like? This is a great book for anyone interested in good food (and great pictures of good food).

Eat Ate by Guy Mirabella (Hardie Grant Books, 2010; Chronicle Books in the USA; photography by Earl Carter).

I felt like including this book because it is a very nice book, especially aesthetically. It is by an Italo-American-Australian cafe-owner and artist named Guy Mirabella. Honestly, I think the most Italian thing about the book is the author’s set of maternal grandparents from Sicily. But I love his spirit for telling his family history and childhood memories related to extravagance, generosity, love, tradition, life, and food, the chapters of the book. This is probably a more “modOz” take on Italian food, but that shouldn’t detract from the great flavors the author puts together in his recipes: pumpkin, ricotta and herb pizza, chicken, capsicum, and leek couscous, roast pumpkin and asparagus lasagne (lots of pumpkin in this book), chargrilled calamari, fennel, and Asian herb salad. This is a book for anyone who wants to serve ‘grown-up’ food that you won’t find on any other table.


  1. Starvin' Marvin says

    Matt, Matt, Matt! Now I must have some Italian food for lunch.
    Thank you for reviewing these 5 cookbooks.

  2. says

    Thanks Kristina. Although I have too many cookbooks (who doesn’t?), I can’t resist new ones. Just need more bookshelves! I’m going to order Italian Cooking from the CIA. Sounds good from your review. After traveling in Italy last year and experiencing authentic Italian cuisine, got to get it. The photo on the cover looks like a dish we had many times, a wild boar ragu. Wonderful. Thanks again.

  3. says

    Great selection. I’ve already got the River Cafe and Jamie ones and both are a joy to cook from, focusing on delicious fresh ingredients and bold italian flavours. I love the idea of the raviolo book, and as I’ve been trying to improve my italian it could be a fun place to start! Thanks for the great tips.

  4. says

    I have 2 of Giuliano Hazan’s cookbooks (I just reviewed them) and they are stupendous! Simple recipes, they are truly the best of traditional Italian cooking modernized. As an American who lived in Italy for 7 years, his recipes help me relive the experience of Italy and her amazing cuisine. A few books on your list certainly do intrigue me as well…

  5. says

    Thanks, Kristina. Excellent selection. I have been cooking with Jamie´s Italy and with The River Cafe´s, among others. It is such a pleasure to cook simple dishes with the best ingredients and above all, feel the passion that Italians put in their food. I don´t need more books, but I am thinking about Two Greedy Italians. Sounds appetizing.

  6. says

    Good selection. I´ve been watching Two greedy italian at BBC, the series is bit wierd, but i just discover that most of the Carluccio´s recipes are in the book Carluccio´s Comple Italian Food. And actually Genaro Contaldo is the italian mentor of Jaime Oliver, now they are partners and Gennaro is in charge of the Jaime Oliver Italian restaurants

  7. says

    Great collection of Italian cookbooks – but where’s Lidia Bastianch? and Mario and Hazan?!! And the Italian cookbook to end ALL Italian cookbooks Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy – with 70 odd pages on risotto alone you know it’s GOOD!!! Love River Cafe – best book is The Cafe Cookbook – and great that you included Jamie – the naked chef was discovered in the kitchen at the River Cafe…

  8. says

    My first book in Italian cooking was Il Talismano de la Felicitá by Ada Boni. The Silver Spoon is another classic… excellent! I love Jamie´s Italy and all The River Café Cookbooks. Good recipes, many ideas, lots of fun.

  9. says

    @LucyLean I couldn’t possibly do a round up of all of the Italian books out there! So I rely on others to add the titles they like to complement my list! I see you are not alone in your love for Hazan.

  10. says

    Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients.[9] Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation.[10] Ingredients and dishes vary by region. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated with variations throughout the country.

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