Last week my cousin Sal asked me to recommend a good Italian cookbook that he could give as a birthday gift to a friend. My first reaction was to choose from the books I have featured on this site. There are some excellent ones like The Silver Spoon and Italian Family Dining. But, as I thought about it more I realized the one Italian cookbook that I would want if I could only have one was conspicuously missing, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.
Published in 1992, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is actually two earlier works of Hazan’s from the 1970s combined into one volume and updated. Essentials literally is an essential resource for anybody cooking Italian food at home, whether a beginner or expert. Hazan includes clear recipes for many great Italian dishes as well as tremendous detail on techniques for doing everything from rolling handmade pasta to cutting and pounding veal scallopine. I find myself referring to this classic time and again.
When I got home after touting the book to Sal, I took it out to leaf through and was inspired to try a recipe I hadn’t tried before, Baked Crespelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce. After making these crepes stuffed with Bolognese Sauce and Béchamel, there was no doubt I made the right recommendation.
Essentials is my favorite cookbook! The Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Roast Chicken with Lemons, and Veal Scaloppine with Lemon are the recipes I make very frequently. I have tried various other recipes from the book (including the Almond Cake) and they always turn out amazing. The ingredients for Baked Crespelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce are similar to my mom’s Pastitsio, so I can’t wait to try it! It looks delicious in your picture!
Thanks but the picture could be better. I really need to work on my photography skills.
I’m glad to here Essentials recommended by someone who knows. I checked it out from the library a little while back, and thought it was the most comprehensive, quirky, personal italian cookbook I have seen. I can tell that the author not only knows what she is talking about, but that she truly enjoys her craft. I’ll be buying it soon.
Totally agree! Essentials is the best all-round book I know of for those wanting to learn Italian cooking in English. Hazan is great at explaining the ‘feel’ of Italian cooking, not just recipes.
Of course, I would not overlook the many books of Giuliano Bugialli, either, especially his Art of Italian Cooking. While Hazan is essentially a gifted amateur (very gifted) Bugialli is a culinary expert. Besides recipes, his books are a lesson in culinary history. Plus, they complement each other in other ways: Hazan is a romagnola and her recipes reflect that, while Bugialli is from Florence and his recipes have a strong emphasis on Tuscan cooking. Now for Roman cooking, Jo Bettoja is great, too.
And if you read Italian, you can’t miss Artusi and Ada Boni (Il Talismano della Felicita’)…