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Show caption You could do a lot worse than take Italian cooking lessons off Marcella Hazan, Anna del Conte and the Guardian’s own Rachel Roddy. Photograph: Feast/The Guardian

Kitchen aide

Italian food is popular around the world, but what are the go-to guides for cooking authentic dishes at home?

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Tue 14 Jun 2022 09.00 EDT

What are the must-have Italian cookbooks? Hannah, Newcastle

“This is quite easy, actually,” says the Guardian’s Italian food correspondent, Rachel Roddy. “Everyone will say The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, mainly because it is just that – essential.” Roddy got herself a copy when she first arrived in Italy: “It’s foundation cooking, but very satisfying whatever level you meet it at.” That’s because Hazan covers everything, from techniques that build flavour “up from the bottom” (eg, soffritto) to essential ingredients, before taking an extensive romp through the country via, among others, appetisers, pasta, fish, meats and vegetable soups, which, Hazan writes, can “tell you where you are in Italy almost as precisely as a map”. As Ruth Rogers, chef-owner of The River Cafe in west London, puts it: “When I don’t know what to do in life, I go to Marcella and she sorts me out.”

Even better, though, would be to partner Hazan’s tome with anything by Anna Del Conte, says Roddy, her favourite being Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes. “Again, it’s got a lot of principles, a lot of explaining and lovely recipes. Although it’s really ‘ways’ as much as recipes.” Ada Boni, meanwhile, was a big influence on Rogers: “The Talisman Italian Cookbook really brought me into Italian food.” Her mother had a copy on the bookshelf at home in upstate New York, and Rogers remembers making Boni’s fried mozzarella as a teenager. “I thought that was so exciting; I just loved the way she spoke, in a very simple and clear form. The recipes were an eye-opener to the regionality of Italian food – she went from Sicily to Genoa to Milan.”

For Roddy, other notable, “reference-like books” include Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (the first cookbook for home cooks published in Italian way back in 1891), Le Ricette Regionali d’Italia (The Regional Cooking of Italy) and The Silver Spoon by Alberto Capatti. It’s Capatti’s book that would claim the last spot if Roddy was “giving someone three books”, and it also tops Calabrian Francesco Mazzei’s list: “Everyone must have a Silver Spoon,” says the chef-patron of Radici, Fiume and Sartoria, all in London. “It’s the kind of book that doesn’t sit on the shelf, it stays on the table.” And that’s not just because it’s so weighty (there are more than 2,000 recipes): “You refer to it all the time. The Silver Spoon will put you in a position to cook a very good meal.”

As will Cucina Salentina, by Lucia Lazari, adds Theo Randall, chef-patron of Theo Randall at the InterContinental. “Having spent many summer holidays in Puglia, I picked this up in Gallipoli – it’s a brilliantly written book with simple recipes from Puglia.” One typical example, Randall says, is a pasta dish with courgettes, tomatoes, basil, fried breadcrumbs and pecorino.

There are, of course, many other worthy cookbook contenders. “For pasta, as much as I would like to say my own book, I’d be lying,” says Roddy, who suggests Oretta Zanini de Vita instead. “Sauces Shapes is a great book with solid techniques.” As, may I add, is Roddy’s own An A-Z of Pasta.

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