Celebrating la cucina
Leslie Geddes-brown savours the best of Italian cuisine in a round-up of six new cookery 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.