A good cookery book is for life, not just for Christmas. Fifty years ago many people had just one cookery book, and in Italy it would have been The Silver Spoon (Phaidon, £24.95). Now translated into English (with an appendix of recipes by modern celebrity chefs) it is the vast cookery book that almost every Italian bride has been given since its publication in 1950. And no doubt the bride felt modern and somewhat iconoclastic, turning her back on the regional and local specialities of her black-clad nonna for the wider possibilities of cooking from all over Italy, even including a certain international hotel element. The book is described on its cover as ‘the bible of authentic Italian food’, so it is odd to see among its 2,000 recipes such dishes as Russian salad, aspics with carrot flowers and gherkin leaves or a smoked salmon quiche — and no lardo di Colonnata. It is hard to judge such a huge enterprise, but I did notice some sloppy proof-reading in one dish I wanted to try; the recipe for duck with figs suggests you use 2.5 kilos (5 lbs) of fruit for four people — about 15 figs per person. Luckily there is a photograph of this dish showing just five figs.
Antonio Carluccio’s Italia (Quadrille, £25) favours quality over quantity and paints a faithful culinary portrait of each region, with its defining recipes, lists of wines and other specialities. Some of the recipes call for ingredients we cannot find in Britain (for example a salad of newborn fish, looking like tiny white rubber bands, which must set back the cause of fish stock conservation by decades), but those we can make are well chosen classics. The layout and design of the book and above all Alastair Hendy’s superb photography of food, places and people make this a book for Christmas and for life.