I own a lot of cookbooks, and I treasure them all, from my dusty, leather-bound tomes written for 19th-century homemakers to my pocket-size Italian monograph on tripe cookery.* And, while they all feel essential to me, they’re not all equally essential in a broader sense. I may own a copy of Apicius (and I may have once left fish guts to rot on a New York City rooftop for eight months in a harebrained attempt at making garum), but that doesn’t mean everyone should.
This, then, is a list of what I consider to be the most essential cookbooks—the ones every library should include. Mind you, that does not mean these are all my favorite cookbooks, though many of them are. Rather, these are the ones I turn to first when I have a question about a particular cuisine, technique, or recipe. They tend to be the most comprehensive, and they serve as a starting point before I dive into increasingly specialized works.
After that, I’ll turn to single-subject sources to learn even more. I may end up learning more from those specialized sources, but Hazan dependably and authoritatively sets the stage. Her book is essential for anyone interested in Italian cooking; the others are only for those of us who wish to go deeper.
In most cases, there’s more than one book on a subject that’s worthy of being celebrated as “essential,” which makes assembling a list like this especially hard. Which of the multitudes of great books on French cooking should I single out? Julia Child’s? Richard Olney’s? Elizabeth David’s? Jacques Pépin’s?
The JOY of COOKING
BEST SELLING COOKBOOK of ALL-TIME
The bestselling Joy of Cooking—the book Julia Child called “a fundamental resource for any American cook”—now in a revised and updated 75th Anniversary edition, which restores the voice of the original authors and many of the most beloved recipes from past editions and includes quick, healthy recipes for the way we cook today. JOY is a timeless kitchen essential for this generation and the next.
A St. Louis widow named Irma Rombauer took her life savings and self-published a book called The Joy of Cooking in 1931. Her daughter Marion tested recipes and made the illustrations, and they sold their mother-daughter project from Irma’s apartment.
Today, nine revisions later, the Joy of Cooking—selected by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important and influential books of the twentieth century—has taught tens of millions of people to cook, helped feed and delight millions beyond that, answered countless kitchen and food questions, and averted many a cooking crisis.
The ART of FRENCH COOKING
Julia Child and Simone Beck
For over fifty years, New York Times bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been the definitive book on the subject for American readers. Featuring 524 delicious recipes, in its pages home cooks will find something for everyone, from seasoned experts to beginners who love good food and long to reproduce the savory delights of French cuisine, from historic Gallic masterpieces to the seemingly artless perfection of a dish of spring-green peas. Here Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle break down the classic foods of France into a logical sequence of themes and variations rather than presenting an endless and diffuse catalogue of dishes. Throughout, the focus is on key recipes that form the backbone of French cookery and lend themselves to an infinite number of elaborations—bound to increase anyone’s culinary repertoire. With over 100 instructive illustrations to guide readers every step of the way, Mastering the Art of French Cooking deserves a place of honor in every kitchen in America.
ESSENTIALS of ITALIAN COOKING
Considered The BIBLE of ITALIAN COOKING
The most important, consulted, and enjoyed Italian cookbook of all time, from the woman whointroduced Americans to a whole new world of Italian food. Essentials of Italian Cooking is a culinary bible for anyone looking to master the art of Italian cooking, bringing together Marcella Hazan’s most beloved books, The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking, in a single volume, updated and expanded with new entries and 50 new recipes. Designed as a basic manual for cooks of all levels of expertise—from begginers to accomplished professionals—it offers both an accessible and comprehensive guide to techniques and ingredients and a collection of the most delicious recipes from the Italian repertoire. As home cooks who have used Marcella’s classic books for years (and whose copies are now splattered and worn) know, there is no one more gifted at teaching us just what we need to know about the taste and texture of a dish and how to achieve it, and there is no one more passionate and inspiring about authentic Italian food.
The NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK
Since it was first published in 1961, The New York Times Cook Book, a standard work for gourmet home cooks, has sold nearly three million copies in all editions and continues to sell strongly each year. All the nearly fifteen hundred recipes in the book have been reviewed, revised, and updated, and approximately 40 percent have been replaced.
Emphasizing the timeless nature of this collection, Craig Claiborne has included new recipes using fresh herbs and food processor techniques. He has also added more Chinese, Indian, and foreign recipes and more recipes for pasta, rice, and grains. Additional fish recipes, new salads and bread recipes, and an exceptional chili dish enhance this edition, which contains traditional American recipes and selected recipes from twenty countries. All the recipes are clearly presented and suitable for many different occasions, ranging from a wide variety of family meals to the most formal dinner party. The author also covers sauces and salad dressings, relishes, and preserves. And there are countless old favorites and those wonderful desserts.
The latest and most comprehensive baking book yet from best-selling author and “diva of desserts” Rose Levy Beranbaum and winner of the 2015 IACP Cookbook Award for Baking
Legendary baker Rose Levy Beranbaum is back with her most extensive “bible” yet. With all-new recipes for the best cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, candies, pastries, breads, and more, this magnum opus draws from Rose’s passion and expertise in every category of baking. As is to be expected from the woman who’s been called “the most meticulous cook who ever lived,” each sumptuous recipe is truly foolproof—with detail-oriented instructions that eliminate guesswork, “plan-aheads,” ingenious tips, and highlights for success. From simple everyday crowd-pleasers (Coffee Crumb Cake Muffins, Gingersnaps, Gooseberry Crisp) to show-stopping stunners (Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Tart, Mango Bango Cheesecake, White Christmas Peppermint Cake) to bakery-style pastries developed for the home kitchen (the famous French Kouign Amann), every recipe proves that delicious perfection is within reach for any baker.
The BASICS COOKBOOK
It’s the 1.8-million-copy bestselling cookbook that’s become a modern-day classic. Beginning cooks will learn how to boil an egg. Experienced cooks will discover new ingredients and inspired approaches to familiar ones. Encyclopedic in scope, rich with recipes and techniques, and just plain fascinating to read, The New Basics Cookbook is the indispensable kitchen reference for all home cooks.This is a basic cookbook that reflects today’s kitchen, today’s pantry, today’s taste expectations. A whimsically illustrated 875-recipe labor of love, The New Basics features a light, fresh, vibrantly flavored style of American cooking that incorporates the best of new ingredients and cuisines from around the world.
Over 30 chapters include Fresh Beginnings; Pasta, Pizza, and Risotto; Soups; Salads; every kind of Vegetable; Seafood; The Chicken and the Egg; Grilling from Ribs to Surprise Paella; Grains; Beef; Lamb, Pork; Game; The Cheese Course, and Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf. Not to mention 150 Desserts! Plus, tips, lore, menu ideas, at-a-glance charts, trade secrets, The Wine Dictionary, a Glossary of Cooking Terms, The Panic-Proof Kitchen, and much more.
Daniel Bellino Zwicke
“Come here kid, lem-me show you something.You never know when you’re gonna have to cook for 20 guys some day.” Pete Clemenza says to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. It’s one of the most famed movie scenes in history, and of great importance to Italian-Americans. Clemenza is making “Gravy” aka Sunday Sauce, the Supreme Dish of Italian-America, and the dish that brings Italian Families together each and every Sunday. Learn How to Make Clemenza’s Sunday Sauce, Meatballs, Pasta Fazool, Momma DiMaggio’s Gravy, Goodfellas Sauce, and all of the great favorites of The Italian American Table. Cook Sinatra’s Spaghetti & Meatballs, Italian Wedding Soup and more, and delight in the many stories and factual information written by Italian Food & Wine Writer Daniel Bellino Zwicke. This book is filled with Joy & Love, and you will get many years of both, reading, cooking and eating the dishes in SUNDAY SAUCE “When Italian-Americans Eat”
If you have ever wondered How to make Clemenza’s Sauce, you’ll find the secret here, alongside recipes for Sinatra’s Meatball Sunday Sauce and Mamma DiMaggio’s Sunday Gravy (Joe DiMaggio’s Mother), as well as Goodfellas Veal & Peppers.
Most Helpful Reader Reviews
- Sunday Sauce “That’s Italian” and I Love It! “If you’re looking for a great cook book to give you some great Italian dishes to try out all courses, with a few stories to read while your food is cooking, then this is definitely the book you’ve been looking for.” – Paris Carter
- My Favorite Italian Cookbook Ever .. “Daniel understands the true nature of the ingredients he works with. The real talent is how he blends multiple flavors for a devine taste.” – Scott Pudalo
- Great Recipes “This book is definitely one of the best cooking books I have ever read.” – Andrii
- A Must Read If You Love Italian “This book is guaranteed to make your family and friends happy with the large variety of different styles of dishes.” – Mchonan