Sunday, 1 May 2011

Review - Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo

Like the food I eat, I love to devour a cookbook in one sitting with a cup of tea (or a glass of wine on a sunny day like today). I like to read it from cover to cover, taking in every picture, every word, every description.  I make lists of what I'll make, and read out ingredients of my favourite recipes to my husband, trying to encourage him to be as inspired as I am. It rarely happens that he gets excited over a cookbook, but he was ooh-ing and aah-ing over some of the recipes in this book as much as I was, the Lonza al Miele E Zenzero (Pork Fillet with Honey and Ginger) in particular.  But I couldn’t read it in one go.  I tried, I really did, but in addition to over 100 recipes, the descriptions of the life and times of Italy in the modern, multi cultural world are enthralling.  You get the impression that Carluccio and Contaldo were made to re-discover their beloved Italy (perhaps the fee for the accompanying BBC series helped) and were quite surprise at what they found – a Country that was no longer fed by Mamma, chained to the stove all day; a country that no longer sneered at food that wasn't made from Italian ingredients; a country that no longer made fun of fast, convenient ingredients. They found a modern Italy embracing the fusions, flavours and fun of real, modern food. 

Two Greedy Italians
by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo 
Published by Quadrille, Photography ©CHRIS TERRY
No soggy carbonara, limp tomato crostini or bland panna cotta to be seen here, this is a book that leaps away from the normal and regular to bring us real, regional Italian food, unusual enough to make this book interesting, simple enough to not terrify the life out of a home cook. 

The descriptions and background on Italian rituals, history and ingredients, interspersed with recipes that relate back so well is a captivating mix.  The pre-amble  that introduces every recipe is a delight, helping the reader to understand why that recipe made the cut for the book, making you want to re-create it with the passion intended by the pair.  With each recipe title translated into English and most with an accompanying picture, you really get a feel for a dish before the olive oil hits the pan.

An Italian cookbook wouldn’t be an Italian cookbook without a recipe for fresh pasta. Yes, we know it tastes better fresh (does it?) and yes, we know it’s the only way to get the tortellini you love, but these two Italian food lovers go on to say that most Italian households now only make fresh pasta on very special occasions, preferring the dried variety after a long day at work – and don’t we know it! As a tribute to this sentiment, only very special pasta recipes have been included, with Tagliatelle Al Vino Bianco con Funghi (Fresh White Wine Pasta Ribbons with Mushrooms) really capturing the imagination; taking the classic combination of garlicky, mixed wild mushrooms in white wine, and turning it on it's head - making the pasta with the wine and turning the ribbons in mixed wild and dried mushrooms slick with reduced white wine, olive oil, garlic and chilli. Not like-a Mamma used'ta make-a!  What could be better?  It's enough to make me want to dust off the pasta machine.

The overwhelming feel of this book is fresh, seasonal and unusual.  It's a book to read, digest and learn from. Shying away from traditional Italian cookbooks, this is a refreshing view focussing on the changing face of Italy, and therefore, Italian food;  What we finally have here is an Italian who (begrudgingly) appreciates that there are food influences outside of Italy! It’s a revelation! I sat, shocked, wine half way to mouth as I read the phrase ‘to make the recipe healthier’ in an Italian cookbook – do my eyes deceive me?

These two older gentlemen, (old friends they say, but I detect some rivalry if only from the cover), so intrinsically Italian, who I thought were stuck with the idealism of an Italy they left behind in the 1970’s, have managed to create a fresh, modern cookbook that is still steeped in tradition.  Now where's that pasta machine...

Quadrille Publishing kindly gave me a copy of this book for review, but all opinions are my own.

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