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on December 29, 2003
Marcella Hazan is to Italian what Julia Child is to French: The person who introduced American cooks to a cuisine, and in so doing changed how we ate. This book is essential: both essential to anyone who wants to cook authentic Italian, and essentially Marcella.
This book has many virtues. It's very thorough -- a comprehensive survey of the various courses and food groups. There are dedicated chapters for pasta and risotto, for example, where many books treat those together. And in addition to the obvious meats, such as veal, lamb, beef, pork, etc., she also tackles subjects such as rabbit and variety meats. (Use Amazon's "Look inside" feature to see the table of contents.)
Another virtue is the trouble she takes to explain ingredients, be they classic italian ingredients or simply the italian perspective on something. After reading through the Fundamentals chapter, you'll never shop for italian-style ingredients quite the same way ever again. In short, very accessible paragraphs, she goes through the history, regional origins, and uses for the major herbs, cheeses, meats, etc. She covers what to look for when buying an ingredient -- what's fresh, what packaging makes for the best product.
The recipies are very workable and give generally excellent results. The techniques are accessible to anyone who can saute on a stovetop -- anyone who's beyond the stage of rank beginner. The instructions are very clear and strike the right balance, with enough information to give clarity without drowning the reader in detail. (There are few things more infuriating than standing over a cookbook, dripping spoon in hand, reading through War and Peace to figure out what to do next.)
Last, but not least, the results are delicious, with subtle flavors that will please you and yours. Two of my favorites will give you a taste. The Pasta with Peas, Bacon, and Ricotta combines very simple ingredients -- pancetta, mild, smooth, ricotta cheese, parmesan, and fresh peas, into a sublime dish that you can throw together for summer dinners in half an hour from start to finish. On the other hand, the Stewed Pork with Porcini Mushrooms and Juniper makes a wonderful winter meal, as the wild tastes of the porcini and the bite of juniper berries combine wonderfully to flavor the pork. This is one I catch my husband eating cold out of the fridge late at night!
Brava Marcella!
Important note: This edition is not a brand-new book. Instead, it combines two previous books, The Classic Italian Cook Book (1973) and More Classic Italian Cooking (1976), into one volume. There are a couple dozen new recipies, and the older recipies are updated to reduce fats. If you own those, you may want this one. If you are new to Marcella and are accumulating her books, this one book enables you to skip the two older ones.
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on June 3, 2004
I have been using this cookbook for more than 10 years. Marcella Hazan writes about food and cooking with absolute authority, and the results are always delicious. I don't just refer to this book when I want to cook "Italian food." I'll often use it for ideas when it's close to dinner time and I'm not sure what to do with a bunch of broccoli, or a fish filet.
The book is also beautifully made and printed. You can't go wrong with this one.
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on March 8, 2009
I have used this book for many years and it tells you everything you want to know about preparing your favorite Italian dish. The ingredients are suitable for a North American market, the instructions are clear, and Marcella offers much useful comment and information as well. It really is the "Classic Italian Cookbook"
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on July 18, 2001
Essentials gets the most use of any cookbook in my kitchen, second only to Joy of Cooking. I absolutely love it. I started cooking from it as a fairly new cook - every recipe is easy with very good instructions. Essentials is a real Italian cookbook so you wil not find Italian-American recipes loaded with cheese and tons of sauce (not that those aren't good). The book is over 600 pages and crammed full of recipes from all of Italy's regions (no food pictures). Virtually every recipe has notes for ahead-of-time prep and all the pasta sauce recipes list a recommended pasta. My husband loves Marcella Hazan b/c she doesn't try to be fancy. If a dried pasta is best with a sauce she will recommend it. If canned broth can be used, she will make a note of it. There is a great chapter in the back of the book called "At Table". She discusses how Italians eat (how the courses work) and has a large variety of suggested menus.
My favorite cookbook reviews list the recipes people have made from it. It gives me ideas of dishes to try and a better idea of what the cookbook will be like. Since I have made over 30 recipes from this book I can't list them all, but here are some of our favorites: Minestrone alla Romagnola - the best, thickest vegetable soup I have ever had and unlike any minestrone I have had at a restaurant. Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms; Smothered Onion Sauce; Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic and Hot Pepper; and Gorgonzola Sauce are all incredible on pasta. Don't forget the Pesto! Her recipe is the best. On to risotto's.... the Parmesan Cheese; Porcini Mushroom; and Sausage risotto's are great. The Baked Crespelle with Spinach, Prosciutto and Parmesan is a yummy Sunday night dinner. The Stuffed Spaghetti Frittata with Tomato, Mozzarella and Ham is my husband's new favorite Saturday breakfast. We have made the Grilled Shrimp Skewers at least 20 times - it goes great with pasta and pesto sauce. Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine and Tomatoes; Tuscan Meat Roll with White Wine and Porcini Mushrooms; Braised Pork Chops with Two Wines are all good winter cooking. If you want to wow your friends with a minimal amount of work try the Braised Pork Chops with Tomatoes, Cream and Porcini Mushrooms (I had a pound of dried porcini so I tried every recipe that called for it). I could keep going, but at this point just typing the recipes has made me hungry. I promise - you can't go wrong with this book. Hmmm, maybe I'll make the minestrone tonight!
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on May 8, 2004
This is the best Italian cookbook out there, bar none, and one of the very best cookbooks written. The instructions are straightforward and detailed - sometimes maddeningly detailed. The results are superior from the ver first recipe - a person with no experience in the kitchen at all will know exactly what to do.
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on December 16, 2013
They call it essential for a reason. I have had this book for about 6 months and have tried close to a dozen recipes from it. Although some of the dishes are labour intensive, most are surprisingly simple. I can't tell you how many sauces I have made where I've looked at the very short ingredient list and the very simple instructions and though "there's no way this is going to taste like anything" only to be blown away by the final product. This is mindful, minimalist cooking with an emphasis on quality ingredients and maximizing flavour. This would be a particularly good beginner's cookbook, as it is friendly, with lots of explanation and great results, but it would be an inspiration to more advanced cooks as well.
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on July 18, 2015
The best of the best Italian cookbook I've ever owned. It's the kind of the book that the recipes are really authentic and the outcome is really delicious, which, according to my experience, is extremely rare nowadays. I've had it for more than 4 years and have tried many recipes on it. As far as I can remember, only two recipes disappoints me (and I'm a really difficult person when it comes to food). I also bought many other Italian cookbooks, with many mouth-watering pictures but most of the time, the outcome following those books are mediocre and do not worth the effort.
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on October 21, 2011
This is the first cookbook that I have read cover to cover...the first +40 pages are worth the price of the book! And the Introduction forms the bases for the recepies that follow. So much makes sense after reading thru each section...not skimming...reading! Once you own this book, you do not need another Italian cookbook.Buy two...one for your kitchen and one with clean pages to read and reread.
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on October 5, 2003
The very first recipe I tried out of this book was a great success. My ten-year-old daughter, her friend, and I followed one of the recipes for making homemade linguini (flat spaghetti), by rolling out the dough, cutting it into strips, and boiling it in water! Then we ate it with tomato sauce, and it was a GREAT SUCCESS!
This book is very comprehensive. It could be called the "Joy of Cooking," of Italian Cuisine, having chapters on just about every possible type of Italian food. Directions are given for making EVERYTHING from SCRATCH, the traditional, Italian way. So buy this book if you are a GOURMET cook, who enjoys spending hours in the kitchen-it is NOT for the busy housewife who has to get a quick dinner on the table. Completely separate chapters include Fundamentals, Appetizers, Soups, Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi, Crespelle, Polenta, Frittate, Fish and Shellfish, Chicken-Squab-Duck-Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Lamb, Pork, Variety Meats, Salads, Desserts, Focaccia-Pizza-Bread-Other Special Doughs, and At the Table.
So far, my family has enjoyed every recipe we have tried.
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on August 26, 2002
Along with Ada Boni's Regional Italian Cooking (sadly out of print), this is the best Italian Cookbook I have ever come across. The recipes are magnificent, easy to follow, and a great introduction to real Old World Italian cooking for Americans and other English speakers. The soggy spaghetti drowning in tomato sauce and pizza buried under mountains of meat and cheese, which often passes for "Italian" cooking in the United States bears little resemblance to the real food of Italy. In this wonderful book, Marcella not only provides great authentic recipes but discusses in detail how to eat in the Italian style. She lays out the logic of eating in courses (a very civilized way to eat) and even discusses how to select the freshest produce, so essential to great Italian cooking. And unlike many cookbook writers, she is literate and entertaining! My one small criticism of the book is that she does not include the Italian names for the recipes: It would be nice to see these below the English names, but this is a minor point. I would agree with other reviewers: If you only buy one Italian cookbook in your lifetime, this should be it.
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