It’s been a crazy couple of weeks starting a new job opportunity, a trip to Staten Island, and toss in a car accident for good measure. That explains the delay in posting, but today’s post is in response to some recent questions. Friends and fans repeatedly ask for my favorite cook books, and I have a few I usually recommend, but the love affair goes a bit deeper.
Since I was 10 I’ve had a fascination with cook books, starting with Graham Kerr infomercials but amplified by the collections of my Dad and my Nans. I would ogle over the food photography for hours, asking my Nans about specific recipes or requesting dishes from my Dad who would always oblige. They were capable of holding my attention eons longer than my textbooks, then and thru college.
Today I see my cook book collection as an ever-expanding education in all things culinary, but more specifically my obsession with regional Italian cuisine. I have a wide variety including Spanish, Asian, American, and All-Purpose reads but 75% deal with the food of Italy (go figure). I love them all, but below are my top 5 resources, used almost weekly for inspiration, referencing, and most importantly ample ogling.
5. Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian
It’s safe to say Saveur Magazine know’s it stuff when it comes to food, and this collection of obscure, incredibly approachable recipes offers some humble favorites to regal traditions. The authors did a great job to include brief descriptions, history, or essential notes for each recipe creating an almost personal relationship with each dish. Notable recipes include Funci Chini (Sicilian Stuffed Mushrooms), Mandilli de Saea al Pesto (“Silk Handkerchiefs” with Pesto), Coniglio Fritto (Fried Rabbit), and Bistecca all Pizzaiola (Pizzaiolo’s Wife’s Steak).
4. My Calabria
Rosetta Costantino’s epic adventure thru the cuisine of Calabria is my most recent addition to the library, and already earned a place among the favorites. Being part Calabrese I always assumed certain dishes in our family’s repertoire originated from this far-south land, but Rosetta’s recipes resemble my family’s own more than any other cookbook I’ve ever read. This was a startling and exciting revelation, for some more than others, and may explain our obsession with spicy, garlic-laced dishes. More than anything, My Calabria is testimony to the resourcefulness of Southern Italians and their ability to preserve and cherish the food they grow themselves. Whether it’s drying peppers, pickling vegetables, preserving anchovies, curing sausages, or forming cheeses the book is a resource for anyone interested in home preserving. Notable recipes include Alici Marinate (Marinated Fresh Anchovies), Lagani e Ceci (Pasta with Chick Peas), Pitta con Verdure (Stuffed Pizza with Swiss Chard), Vrasciole (Stuffed Pork Rolls), and Conserva di Pomodori (Tomato Paste).
3. In A Roman Kitchen
Jo Bettoja is something of a Roman legend, an encyclopedia of Roman culinary history and it’s timeless recipes. Rome’s cuisine is incredibly distinct among Italy’s regions, with roots in so many other civilizations but an unwavering devotion to seasonal produce and offal cuts. The antipasti are simple and straight-forward, often fried in vats of extra virgin olive oil. The pasta is heavily influenced by Abruzzo to the East with the expansive use of wild, foraged greens and herbs. Seafood and Meats sing thanks to exotic seasoning introduced thru the early spice trades. Desserts are not as relevant, cookies and pastries are eaten for breakfast more than after dinner. Notable recipes include Octopus with Bay Leaves and Red Pepper, Pasta with Wild Hops, Semolina Gnocchi, Oxtails with Celery, Rabbit with Grapes, and Jewish-Style Fried Artichokes.
2. The Splendid Table
This is an interesting choice because although it’s #2 on my list, and always will be, I rarely cook any of the recipes. Lynne Rossetto Kasper compiled the book as a historic encyclopedia of Italy’s Northern cuisine, most notably Emillia Romagna. The recipes, based heavily on the medieval and renaissance dining of this regal region, are complex and intricate with incredible depth and an even higher calorie count. It’s called Bologna the Fat for a reason. What I love about this cook book, however, is Kasper’s approach to the history of Emillia’s cuisine and the detailed origins of each dish. Notable recipes include Cappellaci of Sweet Squash, Mortadella Mousse, Risotto with Baby Artichokes and Peas, Baked Pears with Grape Syrup, and ofcourse Ragu Bolognese (which is nothing like it’s American impostor).
5. Molto Italiano
No surprise here – I love the guy, from his creative flavor combinations to his outlandish fashion sense. As Mario’s largest and most acclaimed cook book, it’s also no surprise that I find myself flipping thru these pages for inspiration more than any other resource. The recipes are a combination of re-styled classics and new creations based on the style or cuisine of specific regions. Mario’s genius is his ability to create dishes that seem ancient but have never been seen before. Notable recipes include Olives in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Shaved Fennel with Blood Orange and Pecorino, Cipollata (Emilia Romagna Onion Soup), Grilled Octopus with Escarole and Mint, Grilled Sicilian Veal Rolls, and lastly his Fettuccine al Limone.
This dish blew my brain more than Stephen Hawking’s last tv special so I felt inclined to share it with you in picture form. Want the recipe? Buy the book you cheap skate.