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  • Italian Cookbooks That Keep It Real
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    The point of this column is to bridge the gap between Italians in Italy and those in the rest of the world. Food has always been my tool for uniting people. Since my inner domestic goddess is yearning to break free these days, I thought I would share my picks for top-of-the-line English-language Italian cookbooks. These authors offer authentic recipes that connect readers with the motherland. And they serve up super menus that will make any amateur chef seem like a professional. Here are the books on my shelf:

    Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan (HarperCollins Publishers, 1997) - Often hailed the queen of Italian cooking in America, Hazan wrote this book to share her personal memories and outstanding recipes. She describes why and how she cooks. Beginners to Italian cooking will appreciate her instructions about the utensils you need - from wooden spoons to olive oil. Sardinian sheet music bread and crisp cheese wafers are among the appetizers you'll learn how to make. But some of these recipes require as much attention to detail as Hazan gives her book, so amateurs might have a hard time following her in the later chapters. But the salads are simple enough for anyone - and my favorite is the arugula and fennel.

    The Italian Grill by Micol Negrin (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2005) - This is my newest favorite. I actually bought it for my papa? for Father's Day, but I keep sneaking peeks at the recipes I want to try. I've already made the Florentine steak. And my mouth is watering for the grilled pizza with diced fresh tomatoes, oregano and shaved pecorino. The former editor and chief writer for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana and Italian Cooking & Living, Negrin knows how to reach those who treat cooking as a passionate hobby. The real treat, however, is that this book offers excellent alternatives to traditional American grill recipes. And the dishes are mostly simple to make. So, you can ditch those hamburgers and hot dogs this summer.

    The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane (Globe Pequot Press, 1997) - Of all the books on this list, this one is the most practical. This is ironic because it was a last minute purchase during a weekend trip I made to Boston's traditional Italian neighborhood, which is called the North End, a few years ago. These recipes include all of the basic Italian dishes - from a simple pizza dough to marinara sauce. The book honors the changes that were made to recipes as Italians immigrated to the United States by including dishes like Sunday gravy but still speaks to the Old World by featuring rabbit. I've made the pizza and chicken cacciatore from this book millions of times - and they always get rave reviews.

    Naples at Tables by Arthur Schwartz (HarperCollins Publishers, 1998) - One of my most recent cookbook purchases, this one is dear to my heart. Schwartz is one of the few Americans to recognize Ischia, the island from which my family originates. Among his more than 250 recipes, he includes dishes from Ischia, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Salerno, Caserta, Benevento, and Avellino. He provides history about the cooking in the region - and authentic recipes that he researched while in Italy among the people of these islands and cities. The braciole al ragu? is divine and simple enough for even amateurs to make. It's healthy to boot.

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