Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Book Review of Two Greedy Italians - Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo

I must admit that I am rediscovering Italian cuisine - as I grew up I saw it all as rich bolognese sauces, lasagnes and expensive ingredients such as truffles and posh wines. Now, and more so after reading this book, I see that it has its roots in 'cucina povera' - the food of the poor. For me, this is one of the aspects that runs through Two Greedy Italians as Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo share with us the food they ate while growing up.

They begin with a little lament about modern cooking in Italy and how when they went back to their home regions they found that people now lived more hectic lifestyles and cooked less from scratch, relying on fast food and ready-made items. They talk about the Italy they grew up in - their words evoke mental images of Italian mammas kneading pasta dough, vibrant, bustling markets and soft ribbons of tagliatelle tumbling over chipped, rustic bowls.

There are recipes in here to suit all cooking abilities and budgets. Many of the recipes (garlic soup, cabbage soup, pasta in a chicken liver sauce) contain extremely economical ingredients, although there are also extravagant touches. The chicken liver pasta dish has the option of adding finely sliced truffles, and there are also many dishes enriched with special wines, oils and vinegars.

I made the Zuppa di Aglio (garlic soup) for the family (page 38 of the book) and I bet many people who buy this book will initially flick past it to get to the richer, more well-known dishes. But I hope they don't. With its 20-30 cloves of garlic, it's probably not the best option for the night before a job interview or before a first date, but it was strangely mellow and much less pungent than I thought it would be. And then the soup is poured over a slice of toasted ciabatta, which soaks up the garlicky liquid like a sponge, before showering over a grating of good Parmesan.

The book provides insights into Italian culture too, which act as a backdrop for all these really authentic recipes. Antonio and Gennaro give their views on subjects such as religion (Gennaro is deeply religious, Antonio is a sceptic), street food and family.

Each recipe is on an easy-to-read page (no sticky-fingered page turning halfway through a recipe) and the crisp, atmospheric photography inspires you to get into the kitchen and start cooking. The way the book is written comes across as honest and unfussy, and you really do feel like you could be having a conversation with the two Italians as you read.

I suppose it's inevitable that the way Italians cook is changing, as it is all around the world, but I'm glad that these two great cooks have shared and preserved their favourite recipes here in this book. Have a read - you never know what you might discover!

'Two Greedy Italians' by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo is published by Quadrille Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84400-942-8