I have a bookshelf filled with cookbooks, but the ones that mean the most to me, are the Italian cookbooks I have had since the early days of my married life.  Before getting married, I really didn’t take much interest in cooking because my mother took care of all that in our home. Around the time that I was planning my wedding, my mother gave me, what was probably one of the most popular Italian cookbooks of that era, Ada Boni’s, The Talisman Italian Cookbook , and one that most first and second generation Italian-American daughters received as a gift.  I was recently reminded of this traditional custom while I was reading a novel, Adriana Trigiani’s, Very Valentine.  The novel is about an Italian-American family living in New York during the 1960s and one of the women in the novel takes out her copy of the Talisman to look up a recipe.

Ada Boni was a professional food writer in Italy. In 1915, she founded a lady’s home economic’s magazine called Preziosa. Each monthly installment featured recipes that she had collected from all over Italy, with a strong emphasis on recipes from her native Lazio and central Italy.  In 1929, she published a compendium of over 2000 recipes from her columns–a volume that had a major impact on modern Italian cuisine.

Boni’s work was probably the first cookbook published in Italy intended specifically for housewives and was to Italians what, The Joy of Cooking, was to American cooks.  The book was translated and published in the United States in 1950, and sad to say, is no longer in print.  I still have my copy, though.

In the early days of my marriage, I refered to this book for ideas on what to make for dinner because my husband was a lover of Italian food. I was happy to have this reference because I could not keep calling my mother to find out how to make this dish or that dish.

Minestrone Soup was one of the first dishes I learned to make and have included Boni’s recipe for you to read.  The recipe is healthy as written and does not need any changes. While this was my first version of minestrone, I graduated to a more substantial version, minus the bread, over the years that included more vegetables and some type of macaroni.

Minestrone Toscano (Tuscan Vegetable Soup)

Ada Boni

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1/2 pound dried white beans
  • 1 very small cabbage, shredded
  • 2  tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1  stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, chopped
  • 1  tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1  clove
  • 12 slices thin of toasted bread
  • 2 tablespoons grated Roman cheese

Soak the beans overnight; then boil in 3 quarts water 1 hour or until
tender. While the beans are cooking, place oil,  garlic, onion, celery and rosemary
in soup pan and brown lightly. Dilute the tomato paste with a
little warm water, stir it into the pan and cook 5 minutes.  Add the cabbage,
zucchini, parsley, salt, pepper and clove, as well as the beans and their cooking water.  Cook slowly for 20 minutes.
Place 2 slices of toast in each soup bowl, add soup and sprinkle with cheese.

Leone’s Italian Cookbook 

After a few years I became more adventurous and looked for additional recipes to master.  Of course, I had a few American cookbooks for common, everyday meals,  such as meatloaf and pot roast but I wanted to branch out into more Italian restaurant style food.  Who knows why I thought that then?  In any case I purchased my next cherished book, Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone, of the famed New York eatery, Mamma Leone’s.  My husband and I had eaten there a few times and even took the children there once after going to the theater.  The restaurant closed in 1987.  The book was first published in 1967 and is no longer available.

The recipe that I made most often from this book, and one my husband really liked, was Spaghettini with Clam Sauce.  The version I make today is one with less oil, no butter or bacon and uses whole grain pasta.  There are much easier ways to open the clams than the method used in this recipe.  When I made this recipe back then, I usually turned to canned clams so I would not have to shuck them.  A much easier way to open clams in the shell is to use a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring 1/4 cup of water or white wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes.

 Notice some of the terminology and wording used for foods and processes mentioned  in the recipe date this book considerably.

Mamma Leone’s Spaghettini with Clam Sauce

24 medium-sized cherrystone clams

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh creamery butter

1 ounce salt pork or bacon, diced

3 medium-sized garlic cloves, mashed

12 fresh parsley sprigs, leaves only

Pinch of flour

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghettini (thin spaghetti)

Open the clams, saving any juices, and coarsely chop the clams.  Combine olive oil, butter and salt pork in a skillet; heat.( For a meatless meal, omit the salt pork.)

Chop garlic and parsley together and add to skillet.  Cook slowly for 2 minutes.  Do not burn. Add chopped clams and cook 5 minutes.  Add flour and red and black pepper and stir well.

Do not add salt as the clams are salty.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup of the clam juice, but be careful not to make the sauce too liquid. Bring to a boil and mix and the clam sauce is ready.

In the meantime have boiling salted water ready for the spaghettini.  Cook for 10 minutes.  (If a heavier spaghetti is used, cook a little longer.)  Always taste a strand before removing from the heat to be sure it is cooked to your taste.  Drain immediately and place back in the hot pot in which it was cooked.  Pour a little sauce over it and mix.  Serve in a warm bowl and add the rest of the sauce.  Serves 4 to 5.

Note:  You may add a dash of Tabasco and a squeeze of lemon to the balance of the clam juice for an invigorating and refreshing cocktail.  Or mix clam juice with a glass of Champagne and a dash of Tabasco.

 Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

After about 10 years, I purchased a much revered book in the culinary world, Marcella Hazan’s, Essentials of Classic Italian CookingBy this time in my cooking experience, I was ready for more sophisticated and more diverse cooking techniques. I was entertaining more and wanted to make dishes like homemade pasta, cannelloni, gnocchi, osso buco and risotto. The author’s style is very clear and her directions are easy to follow. Marcella Hazan has written several books since this classic cookbook came out in 1973. Luckily, her books are still in print and, if you want authentic, classic Italian recipes,  pick up a copy of one of her books.

I learned to make risotto with this recipe, but I did not use truffles.  I don’t think I even knew what they were, when I read this recipe for the first time.  Not something we had in our pantry when I was growing up.  I still make risotto every once in awhile, but like to add more flavorings and ingredients, such as lemon, asparagus, shrimp and chicken broth instead of beef.  The process for cooking risotto, though, will always be, as described here.  Well, maybe not the part about “never stop stirring”.  Risotto can survive with occasionally stirring.

Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

This basic white risotto is the simplest way to prepare the dish, and for many, the finest. Good as it is, it can be even better when blanketed by shaved white truffles.

  • 5 cups Homemade Meat Broth, or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 4 cups water

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons onion chopped very fine

  • 2 cups Arborio or other imported Italian risotto rice

  • ½ heaping cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

  • OPTIONAL: ½ ounce (or more if affordable) fresh or canned white truffle

  • Salt, if required


1. Bring the broth to a very slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you’ll be cooking the risotto.

2. Put 1 tablespoon of butter, the vegetable oil, and the chopped onion in a broad, sturdy pot, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice. Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.

3. Add ½ cup of simmering broth and cook the rice, stirring constantly with a long wooden spoon, wiping the sides and bottom of the pot clean as you stir, until all the liquid is gone. You must never stop stirring and you must be sure to wipe the bottom of the pot completely clean frequently, or the rice will stick to it.

4. When there is no more liquid in the pot, add another ½ cup, continuing always to stir in the manner described above. Maintain heat at a lively pace.

5. Begin to taste the rice after 20 minutes of cooking. It is done when it is tender, but firm to the bite. As it approaches that stage, gradually reduce the amount of liquid you add, so that when it is fully cooked, it is slightly moist, but not runny.

6. When the rice is about 1 or 2 minutes away from being fully cooked, add all the grated Parmesan and the remaining butter. Stir constantly to melt the cheese and wrap it around the grains. Off heat, taste and correct for salt, stirring after adding salt.

7. Transfer to a platter and serve promptly. Shave the optional white truffle over it, using either a truffle slicer or a swiveling-blade vegetable peeler. Some prefer to shave the truffle over each individual portion.

another excellent cookbook to check out: