"The Silver Spoon" (Phaidon Press, $39.95): Originally commissioned more than 50 years ago to collect and preserve Italian regional recipes, this influential book has been a must-have for the Italian home cook ever since. We'd be delighted to have copies in our kitchens, too, and now that it's available in English for the first time, we can. From marinades and main dishes to sauces, salads, souffles and sweets, its exhaustive scope reaches far beyond basic Italian. And its delight in fresh ingredients -- both basic and exotic -- is infectious. Often compared to "The Joy of Cooking," "Spoon" (2,000 recipes for every cooking level) provides a broader range of recipes, but not as much emphasis on the basics. Frequently republished, the book has been regularly updated for contemporary tastes, but not at the expense of traditional foods. This edition also provides a selection of signature dishes from a score of well-known Italian chefs. An excellent section on cooking terms and color-coded dividers make the book easy to navigate.
Don't miss: The extensive and versatile egg chapters. Especially the fritattas.
"The Best Recipes in the World," by Mark Bittman (Broadway Books, $29.95): Bittman specializes in doable, well-written recipes for all levels of cooks. Harried weeknight cooks, in particular, will find a feast of quick dinners -- predominantly Asian and Mediterranean. The incisive comments that accompany each recipe are like having Bittman in the kitchen, telling you what to do. This is a terrific bookend if you already have his 1998 mega-seller "How to Cook Everything."
"The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook," by the editors of America's Test Kitchen ($34.95): This extensive, accessible cookbook from the folks at the popular television show of the same name and its source, Cook's Illustrated magazine, aims to be the one book an American home cook needs. And unless you're into exotica, its more than 1,200 family-friendly recipes and 1,500 photos do a very good job. Its top 10 Test Kitchen tips are handy, too.