On first inspection this book, written to accompany the forthcoming BBC series, may appear to be not much different to many other Italian cookery books, or indeed, previous publications from both Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. Numerous recipes and the ingredients will be familiar to any Italian food enthusiast or visitor to the country. Anyone stopping there would be, in my opinion, foolhardy and would undoubtedly be left disappointed. It’s only when you delve deeper into the content of the pages that you discover what makes their book stand out.
The reader is taken on a pilgrimage with the chefs across their homeland, remembering traditional and classic dishes, introducing us to unfamiliar regional recipes influenced by bordering countries, such as pancetta con crauti (pork belly with sauerkraut) or Apfelstrudel (Tyrelean apple pastry), and also discovering new and modern interpretations of the classics, some of which incorporate very new ingredients which are slowly being introduced into the Italian markets by immigrants in much the same way tomatoes, peppers, rice, pasta and maize, with which we associate Italian food, were introduced and adopted only a few centuries ago.
Short essays and introductions to the recipes by both chefs provide a deeper insight into the history, regionalism, culture, religion, family life, modern society and the changing face of Italian food. When once cucina povera, the poor man’s food, was the diet of resourceful housewives, finding a way to feed their large, hard-working families on a very tight budget, this style of cooking is now found at a high price in restaurants. How the tables have turned.
As you’d expect from an Italian cookbook, the recipes are simple and require few ingredients, though disappointingly many aren’t accompanied by a photograph over which to drool. It is the high quality of the ingredients which make for a sublime, tasty dish, as demonstrated by the insalata di asparagi crudi con parmigiano (raw asparagus salad with parmesan) I made, consisting only of fresh asparagus, parmesan shavings, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
The more I read, the more greedy I became, in good company with these two Italian chefs. Whilst I’ve so far only prepared the one recipe, there are many more likely to appear on the menu sometime soon, not least of which is the zuppa di carciofi con gnocchi di pollo (artichoke soup with chicken dumplings), lasagnetta con pane carasau (Sardinian bread lasagne) and tarallucci (savoury fennel biscuits).
Sit back, relax and find yourself transported to the kitchens of Italy old and new by the two greedy Italians.