Cel­e­brat­ing la cucina

Leslie Ged­des-brown savours the best of Ital­ian cui­sine in a round-up of six new cook­ery books

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

STRANGE how pub­lish­ers de­cide si­mul­ta­ne­ously to pro­duce books on a shared theme. This sum­mer, there are at least six ma­jor cook­ery books on Italy, all beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated with scenes of Ital­ian street life. They come from dif­fer­ent re­gions of the coun­try, from the far south of Si­cily to the far north of the Veneto.

When we had a house in Italy, we found cook­ing such a de­light, what with all the mar­kets and ar­ti­san sup­pli­ers. These out­lets are ob­vi­ously still much in ev­i­dence.

First choice must be Rachel Roddy’s Two Kitchens (Head­line Home, £25), her kitchens be­ing one in her home town of Rome, the sec­ond in Si­cily. Her first book on Rome won two awards and this one has at­tracted an­other two. These are well deserved, as Miss Roddy chooses sim­ple recipes that are un­usual and tempt­ing. Def­i­nitely one for the shelves.

In Si­cily (Riz­zoli, £29.95), Melissa Muller con­cen­trates on an is­land that well de­serves the at­ten­tion, hav­ing a cui­sine de­rived from its Greek, Nor­man and Moor­ish in­vaders. Its recipes are heavy on spices, lemons and wild herbs such as oregano and fen­nel; pasta in­cludes saf­fron and, of course, fish is a ma­jor in­gre­di­ent. Sadly, her writ­ing is a bit clonky.

Mov­ing a bit fur­ther north, the Sil­ver Spoon writ­ers tackle Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Phaidon, £24.95), where the food is pretty much the same as Si­cily (the Greeks were here, too), but with such fa­mous dishes as pizza and espresso cof­fee be­ing typ­i­cal. The book is beau­ti­fully pro­duced, full of moody photos (I loved the glow­er­ing black pig), but has only 30 recipes, so it is, per­haps, more a travel book than a cook­ery book.

The only celeb book in this list is Pas­sione by Gen­naro Con­taldo (Pavil­ion, £20). He was brought up on the Amalfi coast and loves the food and the fun; he re­calls meals at which 25 din­ers were not un­com­mon and be­ing sent out by his fa­ther to hunt and fish and by his mother to for­age for herbs. She, ap­par­ently, was con­sid­ered ‘a white witch’ who could fore­cast the fu­ture. Aw­ful front cover and in­te­rior de­sign (why choose a type­face that’s so hard to read?), but has more than 100 sat­is­fy­ing recipes.

Fur­ther north still, up to the Maremma on the coast of south­ern Tus­cany, and we have

Ac­qua­cotta (Hardie Grant,

£25) by Emiko Davies, whose last book pro­filed Floren­tine cook­ing. This re­gion has also had dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences: a heavy Jewish in­put and, from way back in his­tory, the legacy of the Etr­uscans. It’s now known for its flocks of sheep and fierce, but du­ti­ful Maremma sheep dogs.

The Maremma re­gional style is, once again, based on the land and its hunters, farm­ers and fish­er­men. A spe­cial­ity is one-pot cook­ing (a re­sult of the peo­ple’s poverty). Ac­qua­cotta (cooked wa­ter) is ac­tu­ally a soup made with veg­eta­bles seethed in wa­ter and is a great deal more ap­petis­ing than it sounds. The recipe here uses wild chicory, wild fen­nel and calamint, but sub­sti­tutes are given. The book is full of se­duc­tive pho­to­graphs: if the Maremma was a well-kept se­cret, it won’t be now. From the north of Italy,

Veneto by Va­le­ria Nec­chio (Guardian Books and Faber, £20) em­pha­sises that this is not about Venice, but the coun­try­side around the city. The recipes are de­li­cious and de­light­ful and the ex­cel­lent pic­tures are the au­thor’s own.

I’m not suprised these pub­lish­ers have con­cen­trated on Italy: the coun­try’s pas­sion for food and the sim­plic­ity of its cook­ing is per­fectly in tune with to­day. And not a sin­gle recipe with quinoa any­where to be seen.

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