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The 6 Best Books About Italy To Enjoy This Winter Holiday

Behind The Scenes With the Authors

 

 

 

 

LIGURIA — THE COOKBOOK

Laurel Evans

 

Liguria – the home of pesto, focaccia, and the Cinque Terre. Also the source of a rich local cuisine, one that is vegetable-forward, inherently waste-conscious, and full of regional delights celebrated in this book. From local twists on Italian favorites like fritto misto, risotto, and ravioli to lesser-known Ligurian specialties such as corzetti, this cookbook offers readers a personal journey into the heart of the foods of this timeless, yet ever-evolving region.

 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

I have been frequenting the region regularly for 17 years. Ever since my Italian boyfriend (now husband, Emilio Scoti, and the photographer for this book), brought me to his family’s hillside villa in Moneglia on the Mediterranean coast. There, I spent long summers cooking with my mother-in-law and her two sisters, the “nonne” I mention frequently in the book, and also forged relationships with chefs, shopkeepers and producers who drive the local cuisine. As I delved deeper into the rich gastronomic culture, I was surprised not to find more cookbooks about Liguria. There are numerous cookbooks about the cuisines of Rome, Tuscany, Sicily, etc., but Liguria has been unfairly overlooked. Beyond its world-famous pesto and focaccia, Liguria is also the source of a rich local cuisine, one that is vegetable-forward, waste-conscious, and flavour-packed. I felt it was high time for Ligurian cuisine to receive the attention it deserves.

 

 

Funny anecdotes about writing the book

 

So, one of the hilarious things I ran into while writing this book were the contradictions. Liguria is a long and skinny region, smashed between the mountains and the sea, and each town has its own versions of the local favorites. During my research I picked the brains of a lot of different locals: nonnas, farmers, chefs, shop owners, fishermen, and friends, from different parts of Liguria. As soon as I thought I had nailed down a recipe, someone else would provide me with a slightly different version and a very adamant explanation why THAT was the only authentic way to make it. In the end I would pick the version I thought my readers would like the most, and give context as to where exactly it came from, in order to avoid any confusion should they ever end up in a different part of Liguria where the recipe is slightly different.

 

Favorite recipie?

 

Pansoti con salsa di noci – A Ligurian walnut sauce filled pasta similar to ravioli with a triangular shape (or different, depending on the location) with a meatless filling that contains only products that the earth gives. A “poor” dish that best represents the authentic simple flavours of the Ligurian territory.

 

PASTA

Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi

 

New York City chef Missy Robbins fell in love with Italian food and pasta twenty-five years ago. She has been cooking, researching, and studying her way across Italy ever since, leading her to open two of America’s most renowned pasta restaurants, Lilia and Misi. With illustrated step-by-step recipes for handmaking forty of the most versatile pasta shapes and one hundred recipes for Italian-American, regional Italian, and Robbins’s own best pasta dishes, plus two dozen vegetable sides, this is the hard-working manual for home cooks who aspire to master the art of pasta cooking.

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

Great question. I think you get to a certain point in your career and have a body of work and a level of acquired knowledge that you want to share it with people in a different way, outside of just the restaurants. The timing felt right and I had quite a nudge from Talia who was eager to help tell my story. 

 

 

Tell us something about funny about writing this book with Talia

 

Cookbooks are tough projects. This one was a massive undertaking and our goal was very ambitious in the amount of information and storytelling we wanted to include, not to mention the amount of recipes. I think the story we tell most, outside of driving through all of Italy (which presents a story every hour) was our different working methods. Talia is extremely organised and efficient. I, on the other hand am not. I write everything on the back of any piece of paper I can find. But it’s my method and I’ve had it for better or worse for years. It took us a while to get in the groove and understand how to appreciate each other’s styles… but something worked because we are very proud of the final outcome.

 

 

Favorite recipie?

 

It is so hard to pick one favorite recipe. I am attached to each one for different reasons. The agnolotti del plin is definitely up there. I developed it for the book specifically and I typically don’t love meat filled pastas but this one inspired me in its depth of flavor but also in its simplicity on the plate.

Photography by Kelly Puleio

 

A HOUSE PARTY IN TUSCANY

Amber Guiness

 

A House Party in Tuscany is a cookbook and memoir, telling the story of what it was like to be brought up on a Tuscan hilltop to glamorous English parents. It is about how food and entertaining were always at the heart of family life at Arniano, the derelict 18th century farm house that the family bought in 1989, and which became their much-loved family home. After Amber’s beloved father passed away when she was in her early twenties. She had to find a way in the world without him, she ultimately did through food and art. To breathe life back into Arniano, and to keep the spirit of this place the family all loved so much alive, Amber decided, with her dear friend and painter William Roper-Curzon, to set up the Arniano Painting School. Painting holidays where Amber cooks, and William teaches oil painting.

 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

We have been so lucky to host some truly wonderful painters over the years, many of whom come back again and again to paint at Arniano, and all of whom become dear friends. At the end of every meal, and every course, there are always shouts of “How do you make this dish?”, “Can I have the recipe?” and over the more recent years “When will you write a cookbook?!” The guests we have at Arniano over the past seven years were a huge inspiration as they made me believe that I had a story worth telling, and recipes worth sharing.

 

 

Funny anecdotes about the process?

 

I was quite lucky with the timing of writing this book; I began in March 2020, so as you can imagine, there weren’t many distractions keeping me out of the kitchen or away from my desk. I recipe tested every dish in the book at least three times, but often more, so my husband adored the process as there are over 70 recipes in the book, meaning that throughout the pandemic he was wonderfully well fed, and unlike many never had to cook. But from the day I handed in the manuscript on the 1st of March 2021, I couldn’t cook another thing, and at lunch time on the day after I handed the book in, he looked very perplexed and horrified to find that there would be no lunch prepared that day, or for the next three weeks…

Amazingly, according to my publisher, I am the first author to hand their book in on time in her twenty-year career, possibly the pandemic helped!

 

 

Favourite recipe?

 

My favourite recipe in the book is Malfatti di ricotta e spinaci, which are sort of like gnocchi, but with very little flour. I love making a big bowl of this mixture and standing in the kitchen for hours rolling it into little balls before cooking them and tossing them with lots of sage butter. It’s such a meditative process if done on one’s own, and huge fun if done with friends.

Photography by Saghar Setareah

Photography by Robyn Lea

Photography by Saghar Setareah

 

THE NEW CUCINA ITALIANA

Laura Lazzaroni

 

Everybody loves Italian food. It is among the most talked about, written about, and globally popular. Yet by far the country’s most interesting cuisine is to be found outside of well-trodden establishments, and it’s as varied and full of personality as it is delicious. This generation of chefs has come a long way from their nonna’s kitchen: they approach tradition with a respectful yet emancipated perspective; they rethink the formats of the Italian restaurant; they are rediscovering foraging and farming; they introduce serious cocktail programs. Laura Lazzaroni takes her readers on a visual north-to-south tour of this new cucina italiana, stopping at restaurants, inns, farms, and pop-ups all across the country, showing in stories and recipes the multitude of approaches, influences, and ingredients that compose this movement, which is paving the way for the country’s gastronomic rebirth.

 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

The idea behind the book is pretty simple. The way Italians eat today – both at home and at the restaurant – has been in constant evolution. Yet so many people all over the world still have a stereotypical idea of our cuisine: either Bottura’s Crunchy part of the lasagna or … actual lasagna. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either, between fine dining and nonna’s recipes there’s a whole world to discover. Largely in the hands of young chefs, this “new cucina” is gaining traction from North to South. No reason to panic: getting to know it doesn’t mean giving up flavor. New cucina isn’t a kick in the butt of tradition, simply an attempt at improving what didn’t work in traditional recipes, incorporating new exciting elements, making the experience more fun, diverse, yes even more healthy and sustainable. While keeping it all delicious. 

The book is divided into sections that reflect the different approaches these young chefs have: after the “mentors” we have “farmers & foragers”, “Sunday restaurateurs”, “fine dining creatives”, “pizzaioli”, “forces of neo-osterie and neo-trattorie.”

 

 

Funny anecdotes about the process?

 

Well, Alberto Blasetti (the book’s photographer) and I actually traveled all over Italy to capture the stories (and dishes) of all these chefs, and all sorts of things happened to us, including a flat tire in sweltering heat in Puglia. He tried to replace it but it turned out our spare was flat too so we had to call in a rescue. On another occasion I made him lie down in the middle of an Interstate to capture a great landscape shot: no vehicles were passing by… until a Carabinieri car crept up on us (luckily we got away with a slap on the wrist). Some days we had to visit up to 3 different restaurants in 12 hours, which was fantastic and brutal at the same time (I had to try all the dishes in order to write about them!). But my team really pulled through. This also includes Laurel Evans, who tested all the restaurants’ recipes and adapted them for the home kitchen: for the bread and maritozzo recipes, which we tested together, we had to order flour from the U.S. (they’re very different from the Italian ones) and it took us a minute to adjust to them. We even had dough in our hair! 

 

 

Favourite recipe?

 

Obviously I love all the recipes in the book. Because they start out as restaurant recipes, some are more difficult than others. The Fooders’ Romanesco Cauliflower Cutlets with Garlic and Chive Mayo and Alice Delcourt’s Risotto with Robiola Cheese, Preserved Lemons and Smoked Paprika are super easy. If you’re willing to put in a little more work, then you should try Niko Romito’s Absolute Onion with Parmesan-filled Pasta Buttons and Toasted Saffron; Gianluca Gorini’s Grilled Lamb with Black Pesto, Sweet Garlic and Chicory; the Montaruli brothers’ Poached Pear in Carob Chocolate with Minted Milk Cream.

 

Photography of Alberto Blasetti

 

THE INVENTION OF SICILY

Jamie Mackay

 

A rich and fascinating cultural history of the Mediterranean’s enigmatic heart Sicily is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, and for over 2000 years has been the gateway between Europe, Africa and the East. The island’s story maps a mosaic that mixes the story of myth and wars, maritime empires and reckless crusades, and a people who refuse to be ruled. In this riveting, rich history Jamie Mackay peels away the layers of this most mysterious of islands; Sicily.

 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

Back in 2014 when I was living in Palermo I was really bemused by the absence of any good, clear English language histories of Sicily for general readers. The most popular title was and is John Julius Norwich’s book on the topic, which, while an impressive piece of research, didn’t and doesn’t speak to me personally. So – basically – I started writing the book I wished someone else had. A history that would go beyond being a list of wars and kings and queens and plagues and which would instead try and eek out the deeper cultural shifts that have taken place over centuries; something that you could even read as an alternative guidebook, or to learn a few things about how the island got to its present state.

 

 

Funny anecdotes about the process?

 

Well, for a history book, the writing process turned out to be kind of dramatic. I got scratched-up by a couple of cars, fell on a crate of prickly pears (and ended up in A&E) and was nearly blown up in a gas station explosion. I met a few dodgy characters along the way too. A music promoter with links to Cosa Nostra kept hassling me to big up his artist in the book and when I politely refused he even turned up at my apartment. Generally speaking, though, I really enjoyed the research. Sicilians of all walks of life showed me amazing hospitality and, after some initial doubts, I warmed to the idea of eating arancini at breakfast. Oh and the sagre. Somewhere online there’s a video of me standing on a table and singing the old folk song Ciuri Ciuri with awful botched Englishy pronunciation, but I won’t be linking to that one anytime soon…

 

 

Can you synthesise in a few lines your love story with Sicily? How did it begin? 

 

People often think of Sicily in terms of its dark underbelly: crime, mafia, underdevelopment and so on. These are certainly parts of life there. What’s sometimes forgotten, though, is that the island is also entering a new and exciting phase of development. In Palermo in particular bookshops, cafes and art galleries are opening all over the place, and big international shows like Manifesta12 have touched down in recent years. The population is also surprisingly young. There are students and freelance creatives, migrants from all over the place and people with refugee backgrounds. Separately, and together, these communities are injecting a new cosmopolitanism to the city which is making it an exciting, dynamic place to live.

 

 

Is there a time or aspect of Sicily’s history that most interests you? 

 

I’m pretty obsessed with the Arab Norman era — so the 12-13th Century. This was basically Sicily’s version of the Florentine renaissance but a couple of hundred years earlier. It was extraordinary. The De Hauteville family, a French-Catholic dynasty from southern Italy, found themselves governing over an island that was populated mainly with Muslims, Jews and Byzantine Christians. Instead of trying to convert everyone to their religion, they constructed a unique pluralistic kind of government which was multilingual, polyglot, and multi-cultural and where all peoples (at least in theory) had equal rights. The kings also commissioned wonderful buildings and chose to invest in science and literature rather than excessive military expansion. In short, bang in the midst of Europe’s dark ages, Sicily was looking outwards to the rest of the world and thriving. Let’s hope they can do so again.

 

HOW TO BE ITALIAN

Maria Pasquale

 

This book is a celebration of the Italian lifestyle – an education in drinking to savour the moment, travelling indulgently, and cherishing food and culture. A lesson in the dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. We may not all live in the bel paese, but anyone can learn from the rich tapestry of life on the boot. From the innovation of Italian fashion and design, the Golden Age of its cinema to the Roman Empire’s cultural echoes (and some very good espresso), take a dip into the Italian psyche and learn to eat, love, dress, think, and have fun as only the Italians can.

 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

About 3 years ago I sat down at a bar in Melbourne with my publisher. It was a hot summer’s day and I was preparing to leave my birth city to head back to my adopted city, Rome. We spoke about Italy: my life there, the things I love, the things I don’t and broadly, the all-round rollercoaster that is Italy. I cheekily quipped, “Doesn’t everybody want to be Italian?” And here we are. I have my second book, How to be Italian in my hands. It’s my love letter to the country of my heritage, the country where my parents were born, the country I love and the country I have proudly called home for over 10 years. For lovers of Italy, the words will transport you if even for a fleeting moment to the bars, the beaches, the piazze, the sagre and the streets of Italy. They feed the soul, like only Italy can. Italy and Italians are loved fiercely around the world – and to be Italian really is an aspiration to so many. So… if you gain a little insight into what makes the Italians tick and why, you might just have a few of those key ingredients to living just like the Italians do. 

 

As an Italian who grew up in Australia when and where do you feel most at home?

 

For me, every time the plane touches the tarmac at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, I’m home. And not just in a physical sense. It’s like returning to the familiar arms of a lover. “Mi si allarga il cuore”, my heart sings. With a country that loves love and believes in il destino, how could it not have become the greatest romance of my life? Let’s face it: doesn’t everybody want to be Italian?