There’s more to Italian cuisine than pasta. From cured meats to Tuscan vegetable soups, there’s a whole world of flavor and texture to be found by the curious and eager home cook.
A traditional Italian dish is characterized by its simplicity, using only two to four main ingredients and relying on their freshness to bring out the flavor. It’s the same quality that marks good Italian-American home cooking.
There are many Italian cookbooks in the market but only few standout, either by design or by content. Some focus on Italian-influenced dishes, others will highlight authentic regional recipes.
There are books that focus on techniques, like how to make bread or pasta (seriously, there are some amazing baking cookbooks and pasta cookbooks out there). There are also cookbooks that function like an Italian culinary encyclopedia which would be useful for any professional chef.
For the average cook, however, a good Italian cookbook is one that covers all the basics and gives you space for some experimentation. The best ones offer easy to do recipes that have big flavors and yet are not too gourmet. Here are my top ten recommendations on Amazon.
Best Italian Cookbooks
- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Hardcover – Illustrated
- La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy Hardcover – Illustrated
- Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes Hardcover – Illustrated
- Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey Hardcover – Illustrated
- The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook: 101 Regional Classics Made Simple Paperback
- The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside–Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies by Field, Carol Revised Edition
- Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home Hardcover – Illustrated
- Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook, Cover may vary Hardcover – Illustrated
- The Italian Cookbook: 250 Vintage Recipes. Old Italian Cooking Traditions Paperback
- Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated
1. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Hardcover – Illustrated
This revised edition brings together two beloved classics, The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking, in a single book. It has been expanded with new entries and an additional 50 new recipes.
It’s written as a basic manual for cooks of all skill levels on traditional Italian cooking. It has a comprehensive guide to ingredients and techniques and has a wide variety of classic and regional Italian dishes. American home cooks won’t have a problem sourcing recipe ingredients because this book uses ingredients that can easily be found locally. There’s also a whole chapter that describes every ingredient and how best to prepare, preserve, or clean them the way Italian cooks do.
Readers love this book because it’s not Americanized Italian cooking but the real deal. It also has lots of information and practical Italian recipes that are well within the capabilities of most home cooks. Recipes are not accompanied by photos (there are just some illustrations) but as one reader noted, she has never seen instructions as clear and detailed as the ones in this book.
2. La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy Hardcover – Illustrated
This is comprehensive collection of some 2,000 regional Italian recipes compiled by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. It contains a good mix of the easy and the complex and includes some historical recipes. Some of these home recipes have never been published before.
The recipes are labeled with its region of origin and includes variations in ingredients but also in the culinary techniques that change with the geography. The measurements are in US units but don’t expect precise measurements; these Italian family cooks have been cooking for a long time that they don’t really need exact proportions. There are also no pictures that accompany each recipe.
This is, however, a great companion volume for your regular Italian cookbook. With its encyclopedic contents (there are over 900 pages), this is an essential reference in every cook’s library.
3. Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes Hardcover – Illustrated
This lifestyle celebrity-fronted cookbook features recipes that are easy to do and make use of pantry staples. For example, the book shows you seven ways of making sauce interesting or how to prepare a classic cutlet in six different ways.
This book shows you the flavor proportions used in traditional Italian dishes so that you can experiment on how to amp them up. Recipes are categorized into food types to make it easy for you to pick what dish to make for a particular moment. They’re easy to follow and are accompanied with pleasant photos that are illustrative but not fussy.
Readers liked this book because the recipes are accessible and adaptable for all kinds of tastes. It requires very little prep work and use common, inexpensive ingredients. One noted that the quantity of ingredients per recipe is “very sensible”.
4. Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey Hardcover – Illustrated
This cookbook features 100 Italian recipes that have been kitchen-tested by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). More than a cookbook, it also takes you on a culinary journey along the regions of Italy.
Recipes are categorized by regions and are accompanied by 300 lush color photographs. There are also 30 maps included in the book to give you an idea of the regionality of Italy. There are sections on on the origins of Italian cheeses, a rundown of the best farmer’s markets and how key Italian ingredients like olive oil are made.
In general, the recipes are more complicated than a usual ATK one. But that’s because a lot of them require homemade pasta and region-specific ingredients. Still, because the recipes have been kitchen-tested, they are fool-proof and any experienced home cook will find them accessible.
5. The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook: 101 Regional Classics Made Simple Paperback
This cookbook features regional classics that require no more than five ingredients each and are ready to eat in just 30 minutes.
It starts with an outline of the fundamentals of Italian cuisine which includes a rundown of the pantry essentials, equipment and essential techniques. It also explains the culinary preferences of each region and some recommendations on wine pairing.
The recipes are short and easy to follow. Each is also labeled if it is dairy-free, gluten-free, kid-friendly, etc. There are no photos of the dishes and yet many readers still liked this because the recipes contain all the right info, from prepping and cooking times to how many portions the recipe will have.
6. The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside–Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies by Field, Carol Revised Edition
This is an updated edition of a classic cookbook that covers the entire range of Italian baking, from rough, flavorful country loaves to new wave artisanal bread. It now has four-color photography, new recipes, ingredients and equipment sections, revised source guides, and weights.
More than just bread recipes, this is an informative book that documents Italy’s regional and local bread specialties. It clearly explains how European flour classification is different from North American. It also has good tutorials on yeast starters, sourdough starters, biga, poolish/sponge, and includes recipes that call for those.
Readers liked the book because it has lots of tutorial about the Italian method of making bread. One said that one can learn enough to design a new recipe just by studying the techniques in this book. Also useful are the revised measurements which now include oz as well as grams.
7. Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home Hardcover – Illustrated
This book is a collection of old and new recipes developed by popular chef Mario Batali. These recipes, like Batali’s cooking style, are all basd on Italian home cooking.
Written in Batali’s humorous and enthusiastic voice, the recipes are clear, well-thought-out, and accessible. The recipe titles are in English, but the actual Italian names are used for the recipe subtitles. There are also sections on how to shorten or simplify the dish, as well as head notes that contain culinary trivia about the recipe.
Readers like this because it’s a good entry-level book for newbies to Italian cuisine. The recipes are good starting points for dishes that are not featured in the collection. In the case of recipes which use region-specific ingredients, one reader recommends finding suitable substitutes and the dish will turn out well.
8. Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook, Cover may vary Hardcover – Illustrated
This cookbook features recipes that based on Italian cooking but are more adventurous and avante-garde. These are good for entertaining large groups and features suggestions such as hosting a BBQ party or making pizza for an Italian-themed event.
Examples of these dishes are: Pear Bellinis, Carrot and Chickpea Dip, Campanelle with Fennel and Shrimp, and Berry Tiramisu. One reader swears by the soup recipes in this collection.
While the recipes are easy to follow and use ingredients that are easy to obtain, they require a cook that knows the basics. Readers like this book because it shows readers how to prepare less expensive and uncommon cuts of meat. It also has suggestions on how to cook economically.
9. The Italian Cookbook: 250 Vintage Recipes. Old Italian Cooking Traditions Paperback
This is another collection of vintage Italian recipes that can be done by entry-level cooks or experienced ones.
Recipes are written with simple directions and use ingredients that are easy to find. There are no photos but each recipe comes with nutritional info, number of servings, and prep and cooking times. It also uses American measurements.
One reader liked the book because it’s designed to minimize food waste. All of its recipes use the same ingredients that are found in its essential list of pantry staples. You’ll never waste a spice or an ingredient when you go through this cookbook.
10. Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes: A Cookbook Hardcover – Illustrated
This cookbook features 120 quick and easy recipes based on Nigella’s cooking experience in Florence, Italy. It emphasizes fresh ingredients and simple culinary methods.
There are tips and techniques for making the most of your time in the kitchen. There’s also a guide to stocking the pantry with a few supermarket ingredients. The featured recipes are diverse and will satisfy any mood or occasion.
Readers liked how the recipes are easy to prepare and that they’re accompanied by realistic photos of the dish. Also helpful are the author's suggestions for how to substitute some of the ingredients.
EVERYDAY ITALIAN: 125 SIMPLE AND DELICIOUS RECIPES HARDCOVER – ILLUSTRATED by Giada De Laurentiis
This book’s everyday approach to Italian cuisine may offend purists but for anyone unfamiliar with or daunted by Italian dishes , they will find this book very helpful.
The recipes are Italian-American but that doesn’t make it any less engaging. It’s actually a good introduction to the basics of cooking Italian so that when one moves on to the cookbooks by Hazan and the rest of the classics, they’ll be more than able to handle authentic regional cooking.
If you’re looking for flavorful Italian inspired dishes that are easy to make any time, this is the cookbook you should be reading.