Looking for Tuscan recipes? Want to read about Venetian food? Read on for our round-up of Italian cookbooks for Italian cookery inspiration.
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What’s it best for? Fail-safe Italian classics
This is the book that encapsulates those epic Italian adventures embarked upon by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, the duo who opened London’s River Café in 1987. Photos of the Italian homes and cities they’ve cooked in, plus favourite vineyards, markets and even beaches are peppered throughout. Memories are shared in the recipe introductions, too – the inspiration for pasta silk handkerchiefs with pesto, for example, came from transparent sheets of pasta served to them at Da Laura, a tiny restaurant near Portofino that’s accessible only by boat.
There’s a huge variety of dishes to try (soup, pasta, gnocchi, risotto, polenta, bread, fish, meat… it goes on), and a section devoted entirely to sauces and stocks. Our favourites include sardines marinated in red wine vinegar (a great toast topper); fusilli with zucchini and butter (so sweet and buttery); artichokes Roman style, made with mint and parsley; and torta della nonna, a Tuscan sweet pie often made for Gray and Rogers by grandmothers from that region.
Stand-out recipe: The crostini. It’s so loaded with garlic-marinated plump tomatoes and olive oil, that the juices run down your arm as you eat it.
When it was published: September 2009
What’s it best for? Pasta obsessives
It begins with a comprehensive history of “that most versatile of foods”, including Mussolini’s supposed attempts to ban the stuff in the 1920s (imagine!). You’ll read about pasta myths and legends, learn which pasta shape is best for which sauce and discover the golden rules for cooking dried pasta – and that’s all before reaching a recipe.
The recipes are detailed, authentic and precise – but as with most Italian food, easy to achieve if you invest time and decent ingredients. Basic sauces come first, such as Neapolitan tomato and bolognese, then soups, meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, baked pasta, stuffed pasta and even sweet pasta dishes. Our midweek staples include spaghetti alla pugliese (sardines add such depth of flavour to a tomato, olive and parsley sauce), and pasta risottata in salsa – a recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson, who champions cooking small pasta shapes risotto-style. For a challenge, make your own tagliatelle and turn it into sweet noodles with raisins and almonds (cataif).
It’s also great for quick recipes, which call for very few (and usually cheap) ingredients. Del Conte says that her spaghetti with oil, garlic and chilli is “the most flavourful quick sauce I know”. There’s no specific quick and easy section though, so you will have to leaf through. And don’t expect recipe photography – just classy monochrome ingredient sketches.
Stand-out recipe: It doesn’t get more authentic than bucatini alla carbonara. The only allowance Anna makes is for pancetta instead of pig’s jowl, but other than that her carbonara sauce is strictly egg yolks, pecorino, melted butter, olive oil and seasoning.
When it was published: September 2015
What’s it best for? Pasta knowledge
Chef Joe Trivelli takes you on an Italian journey, starting with his childhood relationship with the country and ending with his modern takes on its cuisine. Recipes are divided into pasta, vegetables, fish/meat/eggs, baked goods and sweets, but the handy pasta guide (complete with drawings) makes it a must-buy. It explains the difference between pasta shapes and how each one is made, from quadratini to cavatelli.
Stand-out recipe: Spaghettoni with almonds and green peppers. The idea for this came from a meal a friend of Joe’s ate in Amalfi, where they have sweet peppers called friggitelli. Closer to home, Joe uses padrón peppers or longer pale green Turkish peppers. Either is fine (the padróns have a nice heat); just avoid the big dark green monstrosities that used to be a feature of pub salads.
When it was published: March 2019
What’s it best for? Venetian wannabes
It was Venice that inspired Norman’s Polpo restaurant chain, and his enthusiasm for the place is obvious. Essentially, this book is the result of his desire to live and cook like a local – Norman’s rustic kitchen in the residential quarter of Venice (where he spent a year researching the city) is the backdrop, and there’s plenty of insight into Venetian history, architecture and culture throughout.
Split into seasons, to keep your cooking as authentic as possible, there are 130 recipes that stretch from grilled spring vegetable pizza to swordfish puttanesca and slow-roasted veal shin. Cocktails have their own section (try the bellini sorbet), and notes include Norman’s favourite markets, suppliers and places to visit when not in the kitchen. The photography is beautiful, both of the recipes and Venice itself.
Stand-out recipe: The fried sage leaves are a firm favourite (we sometimes serve them with olives and gorgonzola, for a posh snack), but we’ve got our eye on spaghetti with clams, bottarga and whipped peas next.
When it was published: March 2018
What’s it best for? Italian feasting
Tim Siadatan is the chef behind London restaurants Trullo and Padella, and this is his first cookbook. The recipes put a British twist on Italian classics, often using produce from the former (most recipes call for an abundance of exciting ingredients) and cooking techniques from the latter.
Uniquely, there’s a focus on antipasti. Around 30 inventive and luxurious ideas include fontina cheese, sweet onion, sourdough, golden garlic and marsala soup; sea bass carpaccio with blood orange and fennel; and pot-roast brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta, chestnut and gorgonzola fonduta.
You’ll also find plenty of pasta inspiration (including a feature on how to properly combine sauce with pasta), and sections for BBQ, pan and oven, garnishes and feasting. It’s there that you’ll find Siadatan’s recipe for rolled pork loin stuffed with ’nduja and prunes, with chickpeas, red pepper, spinach and rosemary. There’s a huge amount of ice cream and granita recipes to try, too, including cherry cola flavour.
Stand-out recipe: Pretty much everything from the antipasti section, especially the rabbit with rosemary and orange salt.
When it was published: July 2017
What’s it best for? Family Italian recipes
Travel from Taranto to Turin with food writer Emiko Davies’ stylish book, which brims with family recipes. Divided into three regions, it explores history, culture and food, with the accompanying recipes gathered from different generations. Expect a mixture of meat, veggies and sweets, including Nonna Anna’s meatballs, fresh curd cheese and stuffed peaches. Every dish comes with a helpful introduction (including changes Emiko may have made to an original recipe), and family photos dotted throughout add an heirloom feel to the book.
Stand-out recipe: The book’s namesake, tortellini al sugo, is a dish Emiko’s nonno-in-law used to cook to see in the new year.
When it was published: March 2019
Simply Italian: Cooking at Home with the Chiappa Sisters, Michela, Emanuela and Romina Chiappa, £15.99
What’s it best for? Mastering the basics
Italian heritage (the family is from a small village in northern Italy), Welsh upbringing. This trio of Chiappa sisters grew up near Merthyr Tydfil, in a part of Wales known for its Italian community. As such, Michela, Emanuela and Romina spent their childhood foraging for porcini mushrooms, making pasta at home, and sharing dishes at an annual Welsh/Italian summer picnic.
The book is a collection of recipes learnt over a lifetime, from multi-coloured pasta doughs to speedy chicken with parma ham and sage, layered mocha torte, bean salads and pasta nests. It’s not always the genuine article – sometimes they’ll throw in a clever twist, with a mind to make Italian food as simple and quick as possible (their porcini risotto, for example, is made with cooked rice).
Stand-out recipe: The tiramisu. It’s made with a lot less sugar than most recipes, but doesn’t suffer at all for it.
When it was published: April 2014
What’s it best for? Italian street food
Explore the Italian street-food scene with this stylish hardcover book. A brief introduction covers the difference between fast food and street food, and also includes ingredient notes – why to use ricotta over mozzarella, for example, and how fresh and aged cheeses differ. The index is extensive, but all the recipes are achievable. Both sweet and savoury are covered, from crostini to calzone, making it a must-have for Italian snack lovers.
Stand-out recipe: The Italian gelato, with flavours including lemon and basil, affogato and aperol, and orange.
When it was published: October 2016
What’s it best for? Venetian specialities
Writer and home cook Skye McAlpine explores the culture and cuisine of Venice in this evocative book. Skye explains how Venice came to be her home, and how she created her recipes – there’s no claim that the dishes are authentic, just a truthful account of her own cooking. It’s split into sweet breakfasts, vegetables, lunch, aperitivo, fish, meat and desserts, covering everything from sticky pastries to simple risottos. There are lifestyle shots interspersed throughout, and a handy storecupboard essentials list at the end.
Stand-out recipe: Linguine with asparagus and prosecco.
When it was published: March 2018
What’s it best for? Quick and clever Italian(ish) recipes
This is the book that accompanied Nigella Lawson’s 2012 TV series, and still remains one of her bestsellers. Nigella’s recipes are rooted in tradition, but most aren’t strictly Italian (a fact Nigella happily admits to in the foreword). Instead, Nigellissima is a collection of Italian-style dishes, that deliberately take time and simplicity into account. A traditional roux-based macaroni, for example, becomes mini macaroni cheese – gruyère is tossed with cornstarch to quickly thicken a vermouth, mascarpone and truffle oil sauce.
It’s not just pasta. There’s also meat (crowd pleasers such as lamb steaks with anchovies and thyme, and pork loin with parma ham and oregano), quick traybakes (Italian sausages and chicken thighs), fish and speedy side dishes – use shop-bought gnocchi, mascarpone, breadcrumbs and a little nutmeg to make Nigella’s gnocchi gratin. Plus there’s a section devoted entirely to Christmas, including turkey stuffed with Italian sausages and marsala-soaked cranberries; no-churn chestnut ice cream; chocolate salami; and a panettone-style Christmas cake.
Information about whether a recipe can be made ahead or frozen is at the back, there are beautiful shots of every dish, and most recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients. It’s a reliable staple, and the kind of cookbook you’ll often call on for midweek inspiration.
Stand-out recipe: It has to be the chocolate olive oil cake. Accidentally free of dairy and wheat, the oil and ground almonds create the squidgiest, most sumptuous texture. Eat it as Nigella does, with raspberries and a dollop of mascarpone.
When it was published: September 2012
What’s it best for? Strictly Sicilian recipes
Giorgio Locatelli is a man obsessed with Sicily – its lush greenery, its orange and lemon groves, its vineyards and the simplicity of its cuisine. Made in Sicily, the follow up book to Giorgio’s Made in Italy, begins by exploring the island’s ingredients, history and people, and does so with such passion that it often reads like a guide book. The recipes are regional and always authentic: make insalata di rinforzo (an island salad that celebrates cauliflower), all manner of arancini, pasta with anchovies, and that most famous of Sicilian desserts, cassata.
The ingredients used are always Sicilian, so expect plenty of aubergine, capers, olives, beans, artichokes and anchovies. It’s heaviest on pasta, vegetables and fish (as per a Sicilian’s diet), with not much room for meat. Giorgio’s suggestions are often simple – garlic and parsley, chopped very finely together to mingle the two flavours, can be used to top almost anything, and one of his best pasta sauces is an uncomplicated pistachio pesto. There are seasonal suggestions, too, such as a Christmas caponata made from almonds, celery, capers, raisins and pomegranate seeds.
Stand-out recipe: Truck Driver’s Pasta is impossible to resist, with a name like that. It’s actually a fresh and elegant dish, made only with basil, mint, spaghetti, pecorino and tomatoes. The key, as with most Italian food, is great-quality ingredients and time – those tomatoes need to marinate for at least an hour to get the right flavour.
When it was published: September 2011
Written by Charlotte Morgan