Best Italian cookbooks to try for delicious classic recipes

·7-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Spending a large part of my childhood growing up in Rome, I think back to the aromas of fresh lemons growing in the garden, a pasta sauce big enough to feed a village bubbling away for hours and my nonna, who is in every way the stereotypical Italian grandmother, rolling, peeling and frying all manners of food. Because in Italy, how else do you show love and affection other than through the medium of food?

For many years, delicious Italian cuisine has been reduced to merely pasta and pizza in the UK - but this is beginning to change. This particular style of Mediterranean food is enjoying its own British renaissance so there is no better time to explore the culinary delight, and we have the cookbooks to guide you on journey of food discovery.

It’s now easier than ever to cook authentic Italian food with brands such as Crosta & Mollica available in supermarkets and the mecca of Italian food and glorious eating, Eataly opening with a 42,000 sq ft location in London’s Liverpool Street.

In fact, we teamed up with Eataly this week to try our hand at making the classic and surprisingly simple, dish of cacio e pepe (translating literally to cheese and pepper).

Of course, we could not write a piece on Italian cuisine without the mention of the aperitivo, a tradition of drinks and light snacks enjoyed socially pre-dinner. Whilst we all know and love an Aperol or Campari spritz, the aperitivo is so much more than that. If you’re looking to try your hand at some refreshing Italian cocktails, check out Amaro Santoni or Italicus, both delightful spirits that will elevate your summer drinking.

There’s an old Italian saying, that my dad always reminds me of when I visit home; “bussare con i piedi” which translates literally to knock with your feet. Why? Because your hands will be so full of gifts. These are usually pastries, homemade pasta or homegrown fruit and vegetables.

The delightful Italian cookbooks below range from simple home cooking to elaborate dishes that will impress your friends and family so you too will encourage bussare con i piedi.

Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from the Island of Sardinia

Best for: Exploring Italy’s islands

Off the coast of Italy, west of Rome, lies the second largest island in the Mediterranean: Sardinia. Bitter Honey is an ode to both the history and culinary delights of this area and the book features delicious recipes mixed with personal stories of chef Letitia Clark’s time there.

The stand-out recipe is the roasted aubergines with burrata and honey which was simple, hearty and an absolute crowd pleaser.

Buy now £18.85, Amazon

Big Mamma Cucina Popolare

Best for: Instagramable food

Causing a frenzy with every new opening, the Big Mamma restaurant group has taken London by storm. This book is based around one of its most popular hotspots - Circolo Popolare - where if you’ve not yet visited, you will have no doubt seen the beautifully-designed drinks wall on your Instagram feed. The recipes puts creative twists on classic dishes.

There are 120 included with the likes of Tiramisu and carbonara as well as inventive dishes like Burrata Flower Power. We recommend the Egg Sheeran or Daft Punch - not just for the punny titles but they are both perfect for a summer’s day.

Buy now £22.25, Amazon

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy

Best for: The complete works of Italian cuisine

La Cucina reveals truly authentic Italian recipes that perfectly encapsulate the diverse regional delicacies. This enormous book features over 2000 recipes split into eight chapters: Antipasti, Pizza and Sauces, Pasta, Polenta and Rice, Seafood, Meats and Poultry, Vegetables, Cheese and Sweets and Liqueurs. It is also comprehensive in its coverage of the entire country - with dishes from the northernmost part, all the way down to the island of Sicily.

We thought the sweet and sour meatballs in tomato sauce were delicious and simple to make and it can be washed down with one of the many liqueurs that are listed in the book.

Buy now £20.55, Amazon

Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Best for: regional cooking

We were first drawn to this cookbook for its beautiful design, but we read on for its expert knowledge of such a gastronomically rich region of Italy.

Part of the Silver Spoon cookbook series, this book covers local dishes such as the Margherita pizza as well as lesser known fennel biscuits. It spotlights local regional produce like buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and lemons (the three best ingredients!).

This book makes a perfect gift for those who love cooking and will make a lovely, colourful addition to any kitchen shelf or coffee table.

Buy now £24.95, Waterstones

Sicilia: A love letter to the food of Sicily

Best for: Seafood lovers

Entitled ‘A love letter to the food of Sicily’, this cookbook does exactly what it says on the tin. In its 304 pages, it perfectly encapsulates the cultural influences, regional specialities and the dichotomy between the simpleness and extravagance of Sicily.

We recommend this cookbook to seafood lovers as it features some great recipes like Sicilian octopus and chickpea stew, and whole roasted squid. There are also a number of vegetarian recipes which use flavoursome ingredients such as artichokes and aubergines. Make sure you have a stocked spice cupboard as, inspired by North African cuisine, these recipes are packed full of flavour.

Buy now £18.22, Amazon

Perfect Pasta at Home

Best for: Pasta

If you’ve been anywhere in London in recent months you will have almost certainly seen an advert for Pasta Evangelist, the pasta home delivery service. Now their cookbook lets you make these comforting recipes at home in just 10 minutes. All 80 recipes star the brand’s namesake ingredient, which naturally makes this a must-have cookbook for pasta lovers.

We love how the book is split by the time it takes to cook the dish (10, 20 or 30 minutes) meaning you’ll find a recipe to suit quick easy dinners or show-stopping banquet feasts. If you have a bit of time, make sure you try the lasagna which came out beautifully.

Buy now £13.99, Amazon

The Italian Bakery

Best for: Italian desserts

No cookbook roundup would be complete with a mention of the wonderful world of Italian desserts. Often overshadowed by French patisseries or British cakes, Italian dolci (sweet treats) are still an unexplored area for many of us. This cookbook includes 140 recipes that are both classic and accessible and range from cakes and pastries, to chocolates and pies.

The dolci in this book are perfect for special occasion celebrations or everyday indulgences. We found the core 50 recipes for basic baking particularly helpful with step-by-step pictures that come in handy if you are first dabbling into this style of cooking.

Buy now £26.19, Amazon

Franco Manca: Artisan Pizza to Make Perfectly at Home

Best for: Pizza

The iconic pizza restaurant, Franco Manca has erupted around London with 60 establishments and counting in the UK. The affordable yet delicious sourdough pizzas can now be made from the comfort of your own home with the Franco Manca Pizza cookbook and what’s more, there’s no need for a traditional wood burning oven. The book also includes recipes on fried starters, salads and how to make your own flavoured oils to drizzle on top of your pizza or other meals. Try out Franco Manca’s limited edition No8 pizza this summer made up of mozarella, stilton, spinach and roasted hazelnuts.

Buy now £11.38, Amazon

The Italian Deli Cookbook

Best for: Understanding Italian ingredients

If you want to learn more about Italian produce and ingredients then this cookbook is for you. It showcases hundreds of Italy’s most loved foods, ranging from cured meats to olives to wine. Many of these recipes are very easy to make and scale up well so if you’re cooking for a big group. The likes of bruschetta with truffle scrambled eggs or courgette olive and ricotta bruschette are likely to become staple dishes in your kitchen. Some of the items are pricey but definitely worth it once the flavours of Italy burst in your mouth.

Buy now £17.49, Amazon

Eataly: All About Pasta

Best for: A history lesson in Italian food

You can never really have enough pasta cookbooks - and this option from the experts over at Eataly has amazing recipes. Not only that, but this book is the encyclopaedia on all things spaghetti, ravioli and more, covering its history, best sauce pairings, different shapes and how to shop around for the best quality.

This cookbook also has pasta dishes for all dietary requirements and carnivores will devour the vegan kale fusilli with butternut squash just as much as the duck and olive ragu sauce.

Buy now £14.89, Amazon

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