Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My favorite Cookbooks...and Yours?

"Eat Thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart"
~ Ecclesiastes 

I was reading one of my favorite blogs yesterday--edited in 2014 to add that I am sorry that this blog no longer exists--where she gave a  humorous account of her Mom's Swiss Cheese Chicken recipe. It seems her Mom left out an important step when she gave the recipe to Rue, and Rue never could understand why her chicken dish did not taste as delicious as her Mom's until she found this out!
I told Rue in my comments to her post that, unfortunately for me, my in-laws were either not willing or unable to give me the recipes for dishes that my husband grew up with and loved, and I had to learn how to prepare my Italian recipes by searching through cookbooks and by using trial and error until I learned enough on my own to be able to replicate the recipes we loved.

For some background, my husband was born in Southern Italy in a region named Calabria, and his family emigrated to the USA when he was a young child. His mother was already in her late 40's when she came to this country and was unable to master much of the English language. She did not even know how to read or write in Italian, as she was not able to go to school as a child. As the eldest child, she had to help her widowed mother raise her siblings. Life in Southern Italy post World War 2 was very difficult, and many Italians were forced to emigrate in order to survive, and they would try to live in areas where other Italians congregated to make their new lives easier. Brooklyn, New York was one of those areas, and many of my mother in-law's neighbors were other Italians that came from Calabria, another factor that prevented her from learning English. All the delicious recipes they cooked were learned and memorized from watching their mother's cook. They didn't know measurements, or amounts or how to translate what they did into English. I tried to go over my mother-in-law's house when I was first married to learn how to do some of the dishes, but most of the time a few steps were already begun, and try as I could nothing I made ever tasted the same.

My sister-in-law, my husband's oldest sister, is also a wonderful cook, but I believe her lack of shareable recipes came more from an unwillingness to share her secrets! Her son is a professional chef and he still does not know how to make her very special stuffed baby eggplants! Again, there is always an ingredient or a step left out, or when I'd go over to watch how something was made the food was already half prepared. I truly believe that her recipes are her pride and joy, and she wants to feel that she is the only one who can prepare it the proper way.

Rue asked me what cookbooks did I use to learn how to cook Italian foods, and I thought it might be a fun post to share that here with everyone and to also ask you what your favorite cookbooks are, and why?

I was married in the early '70s and our first apartment at the time was near an Italian store that sold fresh dairy products such as fresh ricotta, mozzarella, etc. All ingredients needed to make authentic lasagna and manicotti and other delicious dishes. Luckily for me, it was also owned by a Pollio descendant. Over one hundred years ago, Giuseppe Pollio came to the United States through Ellis Island bringing his cheesemaking skills and set up his ricotta and mozzarella kettles on the beach at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, NY. Today, Pollio Italian Cheese Company is one of the country's largest producers of Italian cheeses, offering a full line of premium Italian cheeses and snacks, and is owned by Kraft Foods. You know it by the name Polly-O!

The store was giving away free paperback cookbooks called the “Polly-O Recipe Book – Cooking with Cheese” which was first published in 1968.

This cookbook became a treasure trove for me! Readable recipes! I was finally able to make manicotti that rivaled my in-laws! I was in heaven!
Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print but sometimes shows up on E-Bay. Mine is stained with tomato sauce inside, and some pages are tattered, but I will pass it on as a family heirloom someday.
The good news is that Kraft does have a wonderful recipe index and many of the same recipes can be found here, and my favorite manicotti recipe is here. I use the "skillet" method in the recipe for the shells--scroll through to the bottom of the online recipe and you will see it included, as that is the way my in-laws made the shells. Of course, I use authentic grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and freshly made tomato sauce too --no jarred sauce is allowed in my house!

The second invaluable cookbook that I found early in my marriage was 'The Art Of Italian Cooking" by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich. It was the most popular Italian cookbook in American at the time.

The author was from a town near Palermo, Sicily, and many of her recipes were close enough in taste and preparation to be the same as Calabrian. This cookbook was first published in 1948 and is presently out of print, but many copies are available in used editions. Through it I learned how to prepare most of the fish dishes I prepare for our annual Christmas Eve feast, as you can see in the pictures below from last Christmas:

Another favorite cookbook which is still available for purchase is "Italian Immigrant Cooking" by Elodia Rigante, published in 1995. Elodia Rigante is a second-generation Italian-American and was raised in New York's Little Italy.

Mrs. Rigante's cookbook is full of beautiful photos and charming anecdotes about her family. Her recipes are more familiar to second-generation Italians that learned how to use locally available produce and ingredients to prepare the favorite dishes from their homeland. Her parents had emigrated from Apulia, Italy, which is another region of Southern Italy, after the turn of the century. Read a very interesting background story about her here.

The next book I would recommend is Culinaria Italy, Pasta - Pesto -Passion by Claudia Piras and Eugenio Medagliani. It would be more for the photos and travelogue quality about it, in addition to the very authentic recipes it details from all the regions of Italy. It is an enormous book and could be considered a "coffee table" book for display. I was lucky enough to find it for a deep discount at Costco a few years ago, and I believe it is available through a few online used book stores. Reading it is like taking a tour of Italy!

Another recent find was Cucina Di Calabria: Treasured Recipes and Family Traditions from Southern Italy by Mary Amabile Palmer.

Mary Amabile Palmer, a first-generation Italian American, includes anecdotes about Calabrian culture, history, traditions, and festivals, as well as recollections from her childhood, and over 200 recipes in this cookbook.
I was so excited when this book was first published in 2004. Finally, I thought, I would be getting all the exact recipes my in-laws prepare! Unfortunately, this was not completely true, as many recipes were prepared differently or even had different names that were unlike the ones my in-laws pronounced in their dialect. I realized that Calabria is a very large area of Southern Italy, in fact, it's the "toe of the boot", the most southern part of the country, and each and every town and region in it has it's own particular blend of flavors and ingredients and they were influenced by the many different people who invaded it over the millennium including Rome, Greece, Spain, Normandy, the Middle East, and northern Africa. Zeppoli, for instance, in my in-laws family are not the sweet fried donuts covered with powdered sugar that many may be familiar with, but the savory long fried dough ones and made with a potato and semolina flour dough, with anchovies placed in the middle before frying! But the recipes in this cookbook are still invaluable to me, and I've found many that I've enjoyed cooking.
Obviously, I don't only cook Italian dishes, and my husband and I enjoy many different cuisines from many different ethnicities. The wonderful thing about living in Brooklyn, and in New York City, is the availability of all kinds of restaurants and cuisines and ingredients ...but that is a story for another blog someday!

My favorite American Cookbooks are Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, and The New Double Day CookBook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna. I've had both since I was first married and they have helped me make countless roasts, fried chicken, and banana bread, etc.
And, luckily for us all, we have the Internet and blogs to search for recipes and The Food Network on TV! We can become gourmet cooks if we wish to these days!

I'd love to know what your favorite cookbooks are, and your favorite recipe websites and blogs. Please let me know if you blog about this topic soon. Thanks!  Buon Appetito!
Bookmark and Share


PAT said...

Wow! I enjoyed this post, very much, Pat!

Somewhere around here, I have a loose leaf notebook that holds many many many recipes, I clipped from from Better Homes & Gardens magazines in the early 1960's. I should probably dig it out and blog it, one of these days! The notebook is covered in wallpaper. The last time I covered it was in the 1980's.

My grandfather, who lived in Texas, had a chili recipe he only shared with me. Many many years ago, he would make the sauce for various restaurants in the Dallas area. He would not give his recipe, choosing to make the sauce and deliver it to the restaurants. J tells me I make the best chili he ever tasted. I thank my Texas Granddaddy for that!


Proud Italian Cook said...

Pat, What a great post! and that Christmas Eve spread is to die for!! Love all your cookbook recomendations also, I'm a fan of Culinaria Italy too. I also love Cucina & Famiglia, a cookbook by the family of Stanley Tucci, the actor. His family was from Calabria too and made fantastic food. After I saw the movie Big Night, I was compelled to make a Timpano, which I still make every year for my family. I made it this X-mas and posted it. The recipe is in that book, along with others that are equally as good. I believe its out of print too. Thanks again for a great post!

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

Old cookbooks are the best. I have a friend who tries to always find the first English-language cookbook from a culture that has just started immigrating to the U.S. He says the worse the English is, the better the recipes are.

I've got a bunch of old ones, but for now, my favorite cookbook is my own. :-)

Just A Girl said...

Hi Pat,
I always thought you were Irish :)
What a great collection of cook books you have. I'll bet your an excellent cook! When I first got married I did a lot of cooking but then I had to get a job. Sorta put my cooking desire on the back burner but, looking at your cook books makes me think maybe I should pull some of mine off the shelf and put them to another use.
Thanks for the inspiration.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

I swear Pat...I did not read this post before I wrote mine today. How often do you hear "treasure trove"...I called you that on my post today! Then I come over here and that's what you call your cookbooks. How odd! My Grandmother was the same as your MIL,(but she's from the south) no measurements just pinches and dashes and handfuls. She once showed me how to make her deep fried chicken. I was so grossed out after cutting up the whole fryer...I never made it again. It didn't taste as good as when she made it anyway.

Susie Q said...

Oh what a delicious post!! Literally!
I am craving manicotti in a BIG way now.
Thank you for the recipe and the head's up on the sources and books. I love my Better Homes and Gardens classic cook book. Received it as a wedding gift 30 years ago and still love it.
I may not be the best cook in the world but I adore cook books. I also collect those compilation books from women's groups or charities. Wonderful goodies in those.

That Christmas spread is glorious...I am in awe!!


Unknown said...

Hi Pat, tks for popping over my blog, this is a very nice and informative blog..and i like bo bice too :)

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Wonderful post Pat! I've been meaning to do a post about cookbooks that were handed down to me from my grandmother...the 1979 Pennsylvania Grange cookbook was her, I swear she said this, "Bible." She knew all the Italian stuff in her head, so that was for everything else ;)

Cucina di Calabria is *fabulous* as is the author--and yes, you're right that the recipes can vary greatly from one town to the next. I've been meaning to tell you that I saw a recipe for "zippuli" the other day with potatoes from a small town in yes, it was definitely "their" way down there ;)

The most recent cookbook I love is Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma--lots of twists on classic recipes.

All my books are packed away now for an upcoming move, but I'll definitely do a post on my heirloom cookbooks at some point ;)

Mary said...

Oh Pat, what a fun post! My mother's parents emigrated from southern Italy. My mother never wrote any recipes down, and always made her meatballs differently each time (more breadcrumbs, less pork, etc.).

I have found Lidia Bastianich's books to be a wonderful resource. Since my husband's mother could not even boil water (as she freely admitted herself) he is perhaps not as demanding a judge as your husband. :)

Thanks for sharing your favorite books. is a terrific resource for used books.

Tara said...

Hi Pat

what a great post! I am on my way to work so when I get home I am clicking on every link!

My Mom' mother is from Naples...her grandmother loved with the family and both my grandmother and great mother--and now Mom-- are great Italian cooks! Passed along to me--but you are right, no measurements and I hope I do them justice. In my family everyone's "gravy" has a distinct taste. You could blindfold me, give me a taste, and I could tell you who amde it--grandmother, mother, Aunt! Isn't that funny??
My Mom loves all of Lydia Bastanovich's cookbooks and we love to visit her restaurant (Becco--means pecking burd) on Restaurant row in NYC. You eat family style there and the food is excellent. I also love anything Ina Garten.
You're right, we may all just have to post on this!


Tara said...


OK< I have not had my morning coffee--could there be anymore misspellings in my post?? Geesh!

Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
I really enjoyed your cookbook post and think I will have to do a post on it also! Fun idea! I am not the great cook at our house, Wes is! He uses no measurements so when I ask him how he made a great dish he always says he tossed different things in the pot! I'm so glad to have some great Italian recipes from you. I LOVE good Italian food. One of the first dishes I learned to make was lasagna! Keep a look out for my post.
Hugs, Sherry

Vee said...

Very enjoyable post! Interesting to note that some cooks truly are very cautious about sharing those treasured family recipes.

Despite actually having married a man who was one quarter Italian and had the surname to prove it, I don't cook a lot of Italian food. I lurve Italian cuisine, though, perhaps it's an Americanized version. I like Olive Garden...does that count? :D

My husband's grandfather emigrated from Italy prior to WWII. When family members were interested in the Italian geneaology, they discovered that the old town had been bombed and the church with all its records had been destroyed. So we know very little. There certainly are no surviving recipes. All I know is that Grandfather cooked everything in tomato sauce including eggs. That's not much to go on, is it?

My mother's recipes are my favorites. Those and the ones that "sound good" on blogs. My Aunt Janette made a great lasanga and I love that recipe.

Cookbooks? I had gazillions, but have weeded them down to about five. I just didn't have the room and with the advent of the Internet, didn't find that I used or enjoyed the others. Sigh. I'm afraid that this isn't what you wanted to hear. Oh, I still have my Betty Crocker...a wedding gift in 1975.

Mrs. B said...

Pat, you always have the best stories to tell! This one was no exception. I actually have that Italian Imigrant cookbook! I'm a little embarassed to admit though that I don't think I've ever made anything from it! But I do love Italian cuisine! How lucky to be in NY where you can enjoy great foods from so many different cultures!

kari and kijsa said...

This is a fabulous post! Our favorite cookbook is one that kijsa illustrated the cover for (that's in it's third printing) for charity. Yummy, yummy recipes.

Have a blessed and wonderful day!

smiles, kari & kijsa

lorraine@italianfoodies said...

Hi Pat - thanks for stopping by my blog and I'm thrilled to find yours! What a great post, I was lucky enough to be taught by my MIL or "beaten" as I tend to call it:) My favourite cookbook has to be the Silver Spoon as it has every recipe you need!! In saying that anything I ever make would never be as good as the MIL's, it's just that natural thing that Italian people have but I do try:) Where are your Irish family from?? Fab spread at New Year's btw!!:)



lorraine@italianfoodies said...

Christmas Eve - sorry:)

Rue said...

Hi Pat :)

I've actually been trying to read your post all day, but I've been on the phone with a bunch of people trying to figure out more info on the farmhouse. I'm so sorry.

Wonderful post and I have some ebay-ing to do because I want all of those fabulous cookbooks :) I'm starving, so I wish you could cook one for me right now! LOL Thank you so much for mentioning me!!!


CatHerder said...

Being Italian, I have never opened an Italian Cookbook lol, just used old family recipes, with the exception of one...."Patsys" from NYC. My husband met them at a function and they gave them the book for me. One of my fave cook books though, is the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. I love the way its written, and the very different recipes that are in it....otherwise I like Rachael Rays mag for a range of stuff.

Junie Moon said...

Dang, I can't find the comment I left yesterday. Let me see if I can remember what I said. I do recall saying that this was a delightful post and that I don't have any specific favorites amongst published cookbooks. My favorite recipe books are those I made for my parents before they died where I documented all our family favorites. My mother-in-law loved the idea so much that I made one for my husband's family, also. My other note was about the fact that I will blog about this, probably next week, so as to continue your cookbook theme.

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

Tag, you're it.

I just got tagged by Ryan of Ryan's Recipe Blog for one of those silly chain-mail type memes, but I liked this one so I'm doing it. And you were one of the last people to leave a comment on my blog so you're up.

1. Write your own six-word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.
3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.
4. Tag five or six (choice is yours) more blogs with links.
5. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

My memoir:

   Drew is starting to get it.

People getting tagged:

* Rachel at Mommytalk
* Pat at Mille Fiori Favoriti
* Stephanie from Life At Our House
* Jennifer from From The Land Of Milk And Honey
* Judith from Think On It! Philosophy from an Umbrian farm

Rue said...

Wasabi?! Oh yeah!! piled on some sushi too ;) Love it! It's hard to find a food that I don't like LOL Except rice pudding...ewwww :)

Have a great weekend too!
rue :)

Vee said...

Somehow I knew that that Olive Garden comment might not fly. LOL! But what your dh doesn't know... ;D

Michelle said...

Pat, What a joy you are! I'm so loving my visits to your blog.

I can only imagine that you are a fantastic cook! If I ever make it to NY, I'm lookin' you up!

I have my trusty Betty Crocker and I love my cookbooks from church fundraisers.

Have a great weekend and thanks for making me hungry!


Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
I have a new post of my favorite cookbooks!
Hugs, Sherry

Anonymous said...

Pat, what a wonderful post! I love reading about food and looking at photographs of food (like your incredible Christmas dinner), even though I can't cook worth a lick. I do have a favorite cookbook though. It's a Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition, that my mom gave me when I moved out on my own.

And I have to thank you for the kind comments on my window seat blog post. I can't believe you mentioned Eloise Wilkins! We have so many of her books from when my girls were young. My personal favorite is My Goodnight Book that I bought for my first daughter when she was a baby (she's now in college). I absolutely did want to crawl right into that book and live in that little girl's bedroom, complete with window seat, of course!!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend... Thanks for the trip down memory lane... Donna

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Hi Pat,
You asked about my fav cookbooks...I'm kind of a free form cook for the most part. I make things out of my head a lot. Mostly variations of stuff mom made when I was growing up other things I put together on my own. I get most of my desert recipes from other people. As in I eat someting they made, I like it, I ask for the recipe. So I have a box full of those. A recent fav is for a rubarb dump cake. Also both my mom and grandmother wrote out a bunch of their fav recipes on cards for me when I first started living on my own. I do have cookbooks, but there are only 2 I use very often. One is a fundraiser cookbook called Dibbleville Dines. The dirtiest pages are...broccoli salad and strawberry spinach salad. The other book is the Fix it and Forget it cookbook. Dirties pages are for Greek chicken and chicken curry. Writing this is making me hungry!!

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

Hi Pat!
I just returned from 10 days in Italy so this post is so interesting to me! I was in northern Italy, though.

My favorite cook books are Better Homes and Gardens and The Joy of Cooking. Both are wonderful for basic guidelines. I also love to watch Food Network..
p.s. I am having my 200th post giveaway, come enter!

Louise said...

What a culinary journey around Italy. I love Italian food but alas my other half does not eat cheese or pasta, so cooking Italian can be rather restricted? I am not surprised there is tomato sauce on one of your favourite books, a staple ingredient of a lot of recipes. I shall do a post on my mum's cookbook sometime. It is a great subject, many people love to cook. x

Rhondi said...

Hi Pat
What an interesting post. I love Italian food and would like to be able to cook like a "real" Italian. When we lived near Philadelphia my son had lots of Italian friends and their moms were all fabulous cooks. My dream is to go to Tuscany and take cooking classes. Maybe I'll check out the cookboks you suggested. A lot cheaper than Italy!
Rhondi xo

blessings said...

PollyO? That would have suited me, don't you think? =) Nevermind that I'm not so good a cook. Blessings, Polly

Kathleen Grace said...

It is so interesting to know what shapes the way we cook! I learned to cook standing at my grandmothers side as a child. Home made pasta, bread, she made her own butter and cottage cheese! Grandma was the best cook I have ever met and I only have a few of her recipes becasue she did it all without recipes just like your husbands family. I use the Betty Crocker cookbook for basic recipes but have a library of cookbooks with some of my favorites being those of Julia CHilds and assorted Italian and other cookbooks. I think I will try to post about it soon:>)

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

"Grandma was the best cook I have ever met and I only have a few of her recipes becasue she did it all without recipes just like your husbands family."

I suspect what's really happening is that they didn't have "recipes" per se that they were following. They just knew how to cook, what works well together, and what it should smell like.

I'll bet you could go to most professional chefs -- not pastry chefs, they have to be part chemist -- and ask them how much of an ingredient they used and they couldn't tell you.

So the grandmothers who left out whole ingredients and steps, yeah, they're keeping it to themselves. But I know I couldn't tell you exact measurements for my food until I started keeping track so I could post it online.

Linda said...

Hi Pat, I just found your blog through my friends blog and I just loved this must be a wonderful cook.
I love and collect cookbooks, in fact I just found an old Betty Crocker one for my collection. I really love reading them and trying a new husband even reads them(but he never cooks:). For a favorite....that a kinda hard choice, the one I use most is and really love is my Better Homes and Garden one my mom gave me back in the 70's.
Have a happy day and now I'm going back and enjoy your earlier posts. Hugs, Linda

Mrs. B said...

Hi Pat! I came back to add that my favorite source for recipes now is the You can search through recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and other sources too. It's a great source!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post!
My favourite cookbook is my own:)))
Nova Scotia Potluck, Yummy Food for Friends and Family! It can be bought from me too at a discount:)

Also, I have a wonderful book for you to read. The Wedding Officer by Anthony Cappella. It is all about Naples during the war. Full of romance, food, history and quite an eye opener with regards to the conditions in Italy. I loved it. said...

Pat loved your post! it wouldn't be a great cookbook without any stains Pat!

Legacies For You said...

Just came to your blog by way of kari and kijsa and know for sure that I will return often. Your list of cookbooks will have me searching Ebay and Paperback Swap very shortly!

Your Christmas Eve feast reminded me of the meals that one of my dear friends, second generation Italian, prepares with her mother each year. She also creates awesome Italian cookie trays at Christmas, Easter bread, etc. for her friends.

My daughter traveled to Italy last spring with her Latin class and has become quite the Italian gourmet and gelato queen! Thanks again for your delicious post.

Rob said...

Can you ever have enough Italian cookbooks? I have several but the prominent ones are from Lidia Bastanovich and my prized cookbook, Into the Sauce - recipe book from the restaurant Buca di Beppo. I also get recipes from the magazine La Cucina Italiana.