Italian cookery books
From Lombardy to Sicily, Italy is the flavour of the season for cookery books. Time Out picks the best of this autumn’s crop
Antonio Carluccio’s latest book, ‘Simple Cooking’ (Quadrille: £20), zeroes in on the ‘new frugality’ mood with a book that promises ‘good reading, successful cooking and great eating’, and duly delivers all of these. Carluccio, whose culinary career has spanned more than 50 years, sagely advises using up leftovers, and keeping a basic (and affordable) larder of ingredients, plus a few pricier indulgences, then cooking them simply. That may sound a bit worthy, but the recipes, though unashamedly simple, are anything but dull. Who could turn down the likes of giant spaghetti with onion and anchovy sauce, fennel gratin, or risotto cooked with Carluccio’s beloved porcini? Ingredients lists are kept accordingly short and you can practically hear Carluccio’s accented English as you read the instructions. Photography by Alastair Hendy is stylishly evocative, even painterly.
‘Valvona & Crolla: A Year at an Italian Table’ by Mary Contini (Ebury Press, £25) is written by a director of Valvona & Crolla, the family-run Italian delicatessen, food shop, caffè and restaurant in Edinburgh which is arguably the best Italian food and wine shop in Britain. She has written two previous cookery books, but in this book, seasonal Italian recipes are interspersed with short entries on key Italian and Scottish ingredients and Italian wines, as well as personal stories about contemporary travels in Italy. There is also detail about the history of Scotland’s Italian community and the hardships they, and their businesses, faced around the time of the Second World War. The result is a bittersweet tale, underpinned by classic Italian recipes with their roots firmly in the soil of southern Italy, such as salt cod with chickpeas and potatoes or gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella. Others, such as roast grouse with mustard fruits, combine the flavours of Scotland and Italy on a single plate.
At the other end of the country, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, who have been running London’s lauded River Café for more than 20 years, have also brought out a new volume, ‘The River Café Classic Italian Cook Book’ (Michael Joseph, £30). Gray and Rogers have a less-is-more approach to Italian food, inspired by the cooking of Tuscany. This book follows the familiar approach of other River Café books, with such Tuscan classics as pappa al pomodoro (a thick tomato and bread soup) or pappardelle with hare sauce, but with recipes from other regions too, from Aosta in the north (such as cabbage and fontina cheese soup) to Sicily in the south (ice cream made with Marsala wine). The focus is very much on the recipes, with brief introductions to each section, from soups, pasta and gnocchi to fish, poultry, game and cakes. The design is stylish and the recipes are undaunting versions of regional classics. We can’t wait to try risotto with wild hop shoots, and pici (thick handmade spaghetti from Tuscany) with lemon and pecorino.
Another London-based pair, Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, who own Caffè Caldesi and La Cucina Caldesi cookery school, have brought out ‘The Italian Cookery Course’, written by Katie Caldesi (Kyle Cathie, £30). This hefty, 500-page tome, aimed at the serious student of Italian cookery and culture, takes a more in-depth approach, with the aim of developing the key skills of Italian cooking. There are chapters on bread, antipasti, soups, pasta, rice and polenta, fish, meat, game, sweets and cheeses, each with detailed entries on ingredients, regional variations and equipment required. Each chapter has illustrated step-by-step ‘masterclasses’ on techniques such as filleting a flat fish, de-boning and stuffing rabbit, making ravioli and preparing artichokes. Prime Italian ingredients, from olives and olive oil to prosciutto, polenta and truffles are covered in short chapters, giving an overview of the Italian larder. The book covers the whole of the country, so there’s (literally) a lot of area to cover, but it gives a pretty thorough grounding in how to cook Italian essentials. Much more than just a collection of pretty pictures and nice recipes (although there are plenty of those too).
Trendy design is not something that ‘The Silver Spoon Pasta’ (Phaidon, £24.95) could be accused of. This book contains just pasta recipes, some which previously appeared in the massive, 1,250-page Italian recipe compendium ‘The Silver Spoon’, first published in Italy in 1950, then published in the UK (in English) in 2005. This is one for the noodle enthusiast, with sections devoted to pasta of all lengths and shapes, from the ubiquitous spaghetti to the seldom-seen sedani and rare ruote (both of which are pasta shapes). It’s a great source for ideas, whether you’re after a quick, from-the- larder supper or instructions on how to make your own pasta.
And, for the younger Italian food aficionado, ‘The Silver Spoon for Children’ (Phaidon, £12.95), with recipes adapted and written by Amanda Grant, is a fun, funkily illustrated book for budding chefs, with recipes for simple pleasures such as rigatoni with meatballs, baked aubergine with tomato and hazelnut cake. It should inspire and thrill pre-teen cooks.