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best cookbooks for learning french and italian cooking

Discussion in 'Social Life, Food & Drink, Travel' started by GQgeek, Sep 7, 2006.

  1. countdemoney

    countdemoney Senior member

    Mar 31, 2005
    I'll stay away from that one then. Fish and seafood make me gag :p

    Actually, I don't eat fish or seafood at all. Ever. The book is only slightly biased. The pictures of the various steps are well worth it though.

    She shows how to make your own fresh pasta, and then also how to make the dish. The pictures and explanations are the main draw.

    I don't make my own pasta and instead will buy fresh, or buy DeCecco. Still dearly miss the fresh pasta, sausage and wine at Molinari:

    You become much better at cooking Italian when you have a great Italian deli to rely on for ingredients.
  2. Despos

    Despos Senior member Dubiously Honored

    Mar 16, 2006
    Once you learn the techniques, I'd look to some other places for different versions of the same recipes. epicurious.com is a solid resource for multiple, high quality versions of recipes.

    In my case, I found that getting good at a couple of dishes and then doing different versions of them really helped develop my cooking palate and confidence. Willans book has some of this, showing how one base can then be used to make several different dishes. Her book is slightly biased towards fish and seafood.


    When I decided to improve my skills at cooking I would try as many techniques as I could with one product. Like chicken, I tried multiple methods, seasonings, temperatures, cooking times until I was happy. Did the same with roasting meats and cooking fish. Gave me the confidence to not follow recipes and improvise. I won't order salmon in a restaurant any more because I do it so much better myself.

    "You become much better at cooking Italian when you have a great Italian deli to rely on for ingredients."

    A friend and I are going to scour all the small Italian Deli's in Chicago next week. Will update you with what we find.
  3. philosophe

    philosophe Senior member

    Oct 20, 2004
    I second the recommendation for Marcella Hazan and also for The Silver Spoon. Both are great.

    You might also consider Jean George Vongerichten/Mark Bittman, Simple to Spectacular. The book begins with a simple recipe, then elaborates on it to produce 3 successively more complex dishes. Many of the recipes in the book are quick and easy--I make them for weekday dinners. It's a great book for learning basic techniques.
  4. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Once I get good I'll start trying the sorts of things I like to eat at restaurants. A lot of the best restaurants these days tend to be a fusion of different cuisines so I'll learn the basics first and then worry about the fun stuff. The French Laundry is the direction I'd ultimately like to head in though. I was salivating just flipping through the pages.

    You've also got to be realistic about that. Some restaurant recipes you'll be able to make at home, and some you won't be able to. For example, your oven will never get as hot as their oven so your bread or pizza will never match theirs. You'll also run into that problem with a wok.

    You should try checking out Kitchen Confidential from the library. Its a bawdy, behind the scenes look at the chaos inside a restaurant's kitchen. But, its got a short chapter that explains why restaurant food tastes different than the home cook where you'll pick up some tips and tricks.

    And, I also recommend checking out Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen". It doesn't teach you about techniques nor is it a recipe book. In a lot of ways, its like Gastronimique but more readable and gives a broader overview of cuisine and food outside france. If you're as geeky as your name suggests, I think you'll appreciate it. McGee has a BS from Caltech, and a degree in literature from Yale. There's not a lot of books about food that I end up buying, but this is one of them.

    I never knew Hazan was that famous, where people would recognize her face. Unlike Julia, I don't think she ever did a TV series.
  5. itsstillmatt

    itsstillmatt Senior member Dubiously Honored

    Mar 11, 2006
    The wild and the pure.
    I learned to cook by working for almost one year as an intern in a very traditional French kitchen. My experience taught me two things: I could not handle the life of a professional cook, and how to use a knife very, very well.

    My suggestions would be:

    1. La Technique/La Methode by Jacques Pepin. There is now a large paperback volume that combines the two books. For technique, there is nothing that comes close.

    2. The James Peterson book referenced above.

    3. You can buy come technical books or schools in France. They are very good.

    None of these are particularly good for recipies. There are a million good recipe books out there, but very few actually go into technique. This is really too bad as having proper technique makes cooking easy, fast and enjoyable. Not to toot my own horn, but I can prepare just about anything much faster than almost anybody else out there because I have practiced everything and done it under the pressure of time. I would liken it to being able to type versus using the hunt and peck method.

    If you have any specific questions, feel free to PM me.
  6. Luc-Emmanuel

    Luc-Emmanuel Senior member

    Feb 2, 2005
    Paris, France
    escoffier's book is like a costume to modern tailoring: turtle soup, Truffe by the kilogram (where a kg is worth 3,000 euro now)... It's very, very dated.

  7. pinchi22

    pinchi22 Senior member

    Oct 5, 2004
    Spain, California
    I nearly agree that the combined paperback (Complete Techniques) is a good start. The approach is very step-by-step so it´s good if you want to learn methodically to cook. The best part is the emphasis on fumdamentals (eg, knife skills and all the ways to slice a potato). Many cookbooks tell you to throw so much of this and that together. Jacques will tell you, for example, how to tie a whole chicken so that some parts don´t end up dry while others are half raw. If I´ve improved my amateur skills in the past year, it´s due to Jacques.

    Be forwarned that the book emphasizes classical bourgeois cooking, so if you don´t like lots of heavy cream and butter, you´ll have to be selective. There are also a number of french dishes (eg, frogs legs, sea urchins) that most amateur cooks will never make. The photos give you a fairly good idea, but this is not a coffee table book. Photos are small and in black & white.

    Another idea would be to find a cooking school in your area.

    You can find the Pepin book here: http://www.amazon.com/Jacques-Pepin-...e=UTF8&s=books
  8. DocHolliday

    DocHolliday Senior member Dubiously Honored

    Apr 21, 2005
    Willen outPepins Pepin. Much superior, in my book.
  9. chorse123

    chorse123 Senior member

    Nov 5, 2004
    I added the Bittman/Vongerichten book to my Christmas wish list due to the recommendations on here, and I'm glad I did. It's great - easy recipes that are suprisingly tasty. Last night I made roast chicken with soy/whiskey/ginger glaze and a chocolate tart with chocolate crust. I'm not sure this is the best cookbook if you're learning to cook, but it's a good way to venture in a new direction on some standards.

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