The kitchen can be a place to turn to for comfort. Perhaps there is a trusted family recipe that always brightens your day, or maybe it is the place you go when you want to find new ways to nourish yourself and your family. If you need a little company, these are the best Italian food cookbooks that I refer to when I need inspiration or guidance in tackling a new dish.
Some of these classic Italian cookbooks have been around for decades, while others are more modern hits that still keep the focus on traditional cooking in contemporary kitchens. Regardless of your current collection, I would guess that you have space to add at least one more of these beautiful food books to your shelf and kitchen repertoire.
Note: These are all books I own, use, and recommend. This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. You are under no obligation to do so.
I am going to go ahead and start with the heavy hitter: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This is the Italian cookbook that is most often compared to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is a manual for home cooks who want to be able to replicate Italian culinary traditions in their own homes. The massive recipe book is actually a combination of Hazan’s two earlier Italian cookbooks (The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking) into a single volume with revised and expanded recipes. For most American cooks, this book was the first glimpse into Italian food that stretched far beyond – and didn’t even include – spaghetti and meatballs. Hazan was born in Emilia-Romagna in 1924 and brought her authentic Italian recipes to mass audiences starting in the 1970s. She quickly became a fixture in the New York Time’s food section and has earned a well-deserved spot in kitchens around the world. No Italian cookbook collection is complete without this tome. Oh, and take her advice to heart and throw away your garlic press.
This is another classic Italian cookbook that I like to read as much for Elizabeth David’s beautiful use of language as I do for the recipes. Italian Food was an ambitious project when David took it on in the 1950s. Written for a UK audience and published in 1954, the book was one of the first of its kind to document the extent of Italian regional cooking in English. Rather than focusing on the well-known and beloved dishes like ravioli, David dives into Sicilian cooking and distinguishes between traditions in Umbria and Tuscany. I have this book in digital format and often turn to it on nights when I want to think about food and not simply cook it.
The Silver Spoon may be the best selling Italian cookbook of all time. It was first published in Italy in 1950 as Il Cucchiaio d’Argento. The collection of recipes was compiled by food experts around the country who were hired by Domus magazine to create a fully representative cookbook. The experts took authentic recipes like those collected by Pellegrino Artusi (see below), and updated them for modern Italian tastes. The recipes preserve Italian culinary traditions, but make the guidance and ingredients easier to follow and assemble. Still true to its Domus beginnings 70 years later, The Silver Spoon is almost a design book as well as a cookbook – with fabulous photographs of the delicious dishes. There are 2,000 recipes in total, so this one will take you awhile to work through.
One of the things that I did not understand when I moved to Italy was just how regional the food culture is. The recipes vary from village to village, so you can be sure they are almost completely different between Italy’s 20 regions. As you can gather from many of the books on this list, location matters. La Cucina is the result of the work of experts at the Italian Academy of Cuisine who sought over 1,000 recipes from across the country. Not only does the cookbook cover an astounding array of local foods, but it also documents how the recipes and techniques for making them differ from place to place. The focus here is on the food of the people – and how their recipes are so intertwined with the exact geography in which they live.
Anna Del Conte was born in Milan in 1925 and is one of the most prolific Italian food writers of all time. She moved to England in 1949 and soon began writing about Italian gastronomy for a British audience. I really enjoy Del Conte’s books because they are part food history in addition to being wonderful resources for recipes. Anna Del Conte on Pasta is the perfect example of that, as she shows off an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject while also leading readers through the steps to make fresh pasta or a range of authentic dishes from around Italy using dried pasta. While you might not always be up for recreating maccheroncini with pheasant sauce, these traditional recipes are always included. Italian standbys like pasta e ceci coexist from some of Del Conte’s own creations, and all are excellent. The book is filled with lovely illustrations and would make a wonderful gift for the Italian foodie in your life.
I am throwing it way back with this cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi. If you are looking for the very first comprehensive Italian cookbook, it is Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Artusi published the first edition in 1890 as La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene with 475 recipes from all over Italy. In fact, this was one of the goals of the cookbook – to celebrate the diversity of Italian cuisine while also championing Italy as a newly united country. The book was a massive success and was revised 13 times before Artusi’s death in 1910. Many of the recipes are old-fashioned, but they are truly traditional and “authentic” considering the source. This is both a reference book and a cookbook, with a hugely helpful lengthy introduction that helps to put the masterpiece into historical context.
I have been a fan of Rachel Roddy’s recipes since discovering her blog soon after moving to Rome. The book that quickly became an Italian classic in my house is her first cookbook, the award-winning Five Quarters – published in the US as My Kitchen in Rome. I find Rachel’s recipes to be beautiful accounts of food memories, but also incredibly easy to follow and recreate. More great recent Roman cookbooks include Tasting Rome and I Heart Rome the book. Eating Rome is another wonderful book which is part food memoir, part guide, and part cookbook.
This is the one book here that I don’t yet own, but next on my list to buy is Pasta Grannies. Italy has the second oldest population in the world and a falling birth rate. This means that many of the recipes that are held as knowledge among the older generations may be lost unless they are recorded in some way. There is nothing quite like nonna’s cooking, so I am looking forward to getting a copy of Pasta Grannies. The book documents the stories and methods of Italian grandmothers and shares their tricks to perfect pasta from across Italy’s regions. There are over 80 recipes to recreate at home.
Do you have other Italian cookbooks that are staples in your kitchen? Why do you love them over all other recipe books?