9 of the Very Best Cookbooks on Italian Cuisine

9 of the Very Best Cookbooks on Italian Cuisine

In no particular order, here are nine of our favourite books written on Italian gastronomy. These works have been vital to our learnings here at Cook Eat Discover! Dear old friends, always sitting nearby, ready to inspire and inform. We hope that if they aren't already on your bookshelf, you pick up one or two and find them as inspiring as we do.

The Silver Spoon is a bible of Italian cookery, and one the books I’ve referred to most personally. Originally published in 1950, it was the creation of  Milan-based design magazine Domus, who sent a select group of cookery experts around the country to collect thousands of recipes. The product of this is what must be the most complete existing recipe collection of Italian cookery. When I need a little help on a particular dish, I check the Silver Spoon and the information is always there, even for more obscure recipes. What I also love is the recipes are true to how these meals are created in Italian home kitchens. Overcomplicating dishes and adding superfluous ingredients is criminal in Italy; the beauty of the recipes is in their restraint. I think perhaps many cookbooks struggle with this, and imagine that foreign readers will be turned off by the minimalism of much of the cooking, so a needless herb or an inappropriate splash of cream finds its way onto the ingredient list. But never so with the Silver Spoon. These are the recipes that help you cook the carbonara, the polpette, or the bagna cauda the way they are supposed to be cooked. 

Roddy has become a darling of food writing in Britain. I’m such a fan that she’s the only author with two entries on this list. Food content in the modern world is driven by social media clicks, ever-changing cooking trends, and places everyone wants to be seen eating at. Rachel Roddy, however, as exemplified by her wonderful Guardian column, has built her popularity writing about unfashionable peasant food. She does a wonderful job of bringing to life the everyday yet entrancing smells, sights and sounds of what it is to cook, eat and even shop for food in Italy. This book is about Rome, where Roddy lives. I have a particular love for Roman food. In some ways it's slightly more challenging than the food of some other areas of Italy, for example the indulgent cuisine of Bologna, which revolves around fine meats and cheeses. In Rome, on the other hand, you find lots of bitter leaves, unfashionable meat cuts, and offal. The title of the book refers to the latter - ‘the fifth quarter’ referring to the poorer parts of society, who would be given the cheapest parts - the innards, of the butchered animals. Flo and I spend a lot of time in Rome, and we always eat wonderfully. This book is a fantastic insight into culinary life in the Eternal City, full of cracking recipes and stories.

Bocca di Lupo has been an unmovable part of the furniture in London’s Soho restaurant scene for years, and I’m sure will continue to be so for many more. This book is a celebration of the principles that have made Kennedy’s restaurant so popular: freshness, seasonality, simplicity and regionality; the cornerstones of good Italian cooking. Bocca di Lupo models itself on the ‘trattoria’ style of restaurant - a neighbourhood, family place with classic dishes. Everything in this book is delicious. Every page screams ‘eat me’, and each dish reflects the cooking of a different part of the country. Whenever I need some quick ideas for a dish that I know will deliver in flavour, whilst being eminently cookable without excessive complexity, I turn to Bocca. It’s clean, inviting and a celebration of everything I love about Italian cookery.

Pasta Grannies was first a huge hit on YouTube; a series of videos made all around Italy showing grandmothers preparing fresh pastas and sauces, sharing their expertise after a lifetime preparing local specialities with love and patience. I believe the best things we can learn about Italian food don’t come from chefs, but from the kitchens of simple family homes. The food culture is so strong, partly due to the passage of skills and recipes from generation to generation in home kitchens in every village and town around the country. For us outsiders, access to this can be tricky! And in this we find the beauty of Pasta Grannies. These recipes are straight from those kitchens, not just tried and tested, but perfected after hundreds of years of repetition. The pictures are great too, with accompanying little stories about the smiling matriarchs, some of whom are well into their 90s, and still regularly rolling out kilos of delicious fresh pasta

A wonderful and all-encompassing reference point for all things Italian cuisine. First published in the 80s, it has become known as one of the seminal works on the subject, usually alongside Macella Hazan’s ‘Essentials of Italian Cooking’, which is also very deserving of a mention. I prefer del Conte’s work, finding its recipes more faithful to the food I come across in Italy. The book reads less like a recipe book, and more an A-Z encyclopaedia, with beautiful and detailed descriptions and imagery of all the ingredients and dishes you could hope to come across. Del Conte’s book is an ever-present companion, there for you whenever you are in doubt. It’s full of not just recipes, but history, comment and advice. It really is a must on any cookbook shelf.  

Giorgio Locatelli must be considered one of the finest Italian chefs in the world. He has held a Michelin star in London for over 20 years, first at Zafferano, and then at the illustrious Locanda Locatelli. Italian food is often characterised by humility and simplicity, and I’ve sometimes struggled for ideas on how to refine some of the dishes into something more ‘fine dining’ without losing their essence. This book is perfect for that; it’s full of imagination, playfulness and inspiration for glamming up the rustic recipes and flavour combinations I love the most. At the same time, I’ve always loved this book for its stories. Locatelli doesn’t just write about elegant restaurant dishes, but pays homage to all the important ingredients of Italian cuisine, accompanying them with memories and tales of his upbringing on the beautiful lakes of northern Italy. His writing style, and by all accounts his character, is jovial and generous, with enjoying food amongst those you love at the core of everything. He writes: “At the heart of all cooking, whether you are rich or poor, is the spirit of conviviality, the pleasure that comes from sharing a meal with others.”

Emiko Davies, like us, is a non-Italian who somehow found herself living in the Maremma, this incredibly beautiful but still relatively undiscovered corner of southern Tuscany. From a young age, I was spending a sunny and delicious chunk of each year right here, and the dishes typical of this region are particularly special to me. They’re not the kind of things you often come across in other parts of the peninsula or in Italian restaurants abroad. They’re earthy, humble and completely born of necessity. The best example is aquacotta, a magnificent bread and vegetable based soup, which literally translates as ‘cooked water’. Luckily for us, Emiko Davies created a cookbook especially for these dishes, paying homage to the beautiful land we have come to call home. And the name of the book? Aquacotta of course! 

The world of pasta is not a simple one. Travel across Italy and you will encounter hundreds of different pasta shapes and hundreds of sauces. To understand them all is a life’s work. From the more practical issues of the skills and ingredients involved, to the magic and myth that form their history and origins. All of this has always fascinated me, and has led me to become a professional pasta maker myself. Such is the depth and breadth of this world, though, that one never stops being surprised by something new and exciting. As we mention more than once in this list, the regionality of cuisine here is everything. I can travel to a restaurant two hours from home in Tuscany, and not understand half of the pastas on the menu. This journey of pasta discovery now has an unparalleled manual to bring along with you. Roddy’s A-Z is a wonderful book that walks you through all manner of shapes, helping us to understand how they are formed and what they are best eaten with, as well as the fascinating historical and social contexts that led to their creation.

Claudia Roden’s a food writer who has covered a range of cuisines across Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean. She is in fact best know for books on Middle-Eastern cookery. However, she is a writer and food anthropologist matched by very few, and whatever she decides to turn her hand to, she executes wonderfully. She comes from an era of food writers who would immerse themselves in a culture and gastronomic tradition before putting pen to paper. In 1990 she wrote the seminal ‘Food of Italy’, after spending a year in the country on a fastidious foodie adventure. Before I personally decided to align my work so closely with Italian food and pasta, I needed to learn a lot more about the range of dishes and techniques around Italy. This book provided such a great starting point because it is written in a way that focuses on one of the most important aspects of Italian food culture - regionality. It works its way through each area of the country, beautifully bringing to life the distinct culinary nuances, ingredients and recipes of each region. One can never talk about Italian food in a homogenous way - the bready dumplings of alpine Trentino have nothing in common with the fiery nduja-ridden pastas of Calabria. Roden walks us around the food map of Italy wonderfully.