Published in 1976 by Ballantine Books, The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazen isn't a new cookbook, nor is it a flashy photo-laden one. If you love Italian food, or have a cook on your Christmas list who does, however, this is a great book to have in your library.

Hazen has long been the doyenne of Italian cuisine and this book shows you why. She walks you through making your own pasta, gnocchi, and polenta, as well as salads and some really wonderful main courses.

I've had my copy of this book for about 20 years and it's been in pretty constant use all that time. I always go back to this book first if I'm thinking about making something Italian, but I've made some of these recipes so many times that I don't need to look them up. I think there are more family favourite recipes in this cookbook than any other I own.Pesto recipes are ubiquitous now, but it was a revelation for me when I first made it from this book. I think Hazen's is the best and it's the one I always use. She also gives you a number of different types of tomato sauces to make. You can use the recipes here for family dinners, but many of them are elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.

The recipes are straightforward and mostly easy to make, although there are a few tricky things that take a bit of practice. All of the ingredients are standard items that you can find anywhere, and like all good Italian cooking, the emphasis is on quality and freshness. At the end of each recipe Hazen gives you suggestions of other menu items to accompany it.

Just looking over this book as I'm writing my review is making me rethink dinner tonight. I think I might just make something that I've never tried before.

Difficulty level: Easy