Magic number

Nigellissima arrived last week. My first thought was:  What am I going to do with another Nigella cookbook?  And my second thought was:  Forget that!  what am I going to do with another Italian cookbook?

If your library is anything like mine, Italian is one of the most grievously swollen categories on the shelf.  I thought I'd been very strict about rationing additions, but as if this moment EYB tells me I still have 59 Italian cookbooks.

I blame the market.  I can't think of a single year that publishing in Italian cuisine has really slackened.  Some years there are more standouts than others.  But even in the slow season, in summer, publishers just keep printing more Italian cookbooks.  Even though when it comes to food you don't need a recipe for, Italian is (rightly or wrongly) probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Anyway.  Let's try and think for a moment about what types of Italian cookbooks we maybe need.  Maybe this profile will hold true for other ethnic cookbooks as well.  Maybe we'll have some luck paring down our collections.

  • Essential overview.  A big, accessible book that covers basic techniques, from how to make your own pasta and sauces to how to make limoncello.  With lots of basic recipes.
  • Travelogue type book.  Something with cultural history, food scholarship, lots of National Geographic-style pictures. Something that captures the feel of the country and teaches me something, but which doesn't necessarily have to live on the cookbook stand.
  • Weeknight book:  Something with lots and lots of easy recipes using my favorite Italian staples - you know, garlic and oregano and tomatoes and so forth - but in ways I haven't necessarily encountered or can't just come up with myself.
  • Dessert book: Because you can't expect to just whip up some cannoli off the top of your head.
  • "Project" book:  Something full of super-authentic, time-consuming, old, and slow recipes - say, breaking down a whole pig and making head cheese - for the rainy day when I really want to knock myself out.  Although in reality I may not ever even crack the cover, I still want to have it.
  • Single-subject books: Do I need a book just on salumi? Gelato? Pizza? Maybe not, but you can make an argument for them, so let's be generous and say you might need a handful of these.
  • Regional books. The longer a cuisine has been popular, the more specialized the books can get.  I happen to like southern Italian food, so I have a few Sicilian books.  But I've got Tuscan and Venetian books too, which I almost never look at.  And there are at least half-a-dozen other regional areas that receive frequent publishing attention.  You can see where things balloon out of control here.

OK.  That's all I can come up with.  Even allowing multiple entries in the "single subject" and "regional" categories -  even allowing for having 2 or 3 of everything else - I don't see at all how I get to 59.  Maybe it's because I didn't include a "Mario," "Lidia," or "Jamie" category...but personally, I think my books are reproducing.


  • wester  on  1/28/2013 at 1:51 PM

    Yes, Italian cookbooks are definitely the worst in proliferating. I decided quite a while ago that I didn't need any more Italian cookbooks. Or Indian, as those are second worst. I tried to remove all that were not really very very special from my wishlist. And still, I have 14 books (out of 238) that EYB classifies as Italian, the most recent one acquired two weeks ago. 3565 Italian recipes. I could try a new Italian recipe every day for the next 10 years.... And I don't even have an Italian dessert book. I already have three cannoli recipes anyway.

  • Jane  on  1/28/2013 at 11:04 PM

    Oh dear, I wish you hadn't posted this Susie. I read your figure of 59 Italian cookbooks and I thought, at least mine aren't THAT bad. I counted the books on my Italian shelf and I had 38. But then I checked my Italian category on my EYB Bookshelf and I had 82!! There are the Italian books on my baking and desserts shelves, and on the restaurant shelves and the pasta shelf. That's almost 16,000 recipes - using wester's method, that is a new recipe every day for 43 years. I need to do some pruning!

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