Review: Jamie Cooks Italy
We tried Jamie Oliver's newest cookbook.
Some of the best food in the world is not found in Michelin-starred restaurants or served up as beautifully plated works of art. It is found at home, in the humble kitchens of our grandparents, who pour love and tradition into every meal they make. This tradition is what celebrity chef Jamie Oliver goes back to in his latest book, Jamie Cooks Italy. Italian food played a huge role in shaping Oliver's career –his first boss and mentor, Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo, had a tremendous influence on Oliver when he first started out as a chef in London.
Oliver has since developed a deep love for Italian cuisine and decided to go right back to the the root of Italian cooking with this new book. To do this, he travelled all over Italy with Contaldo, exploring the different dishes from each of the country's regions. The book features the expected pizza and pasta dishes, but you will also find meals that will delight and surprise you. Oliver set out to learn the simple, traditional recipes that are at the heart and soul of Italian cooking and, in doing so, preserves the traditions – which he feels are at risk of being lost as contemporary cooking takes over.
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One of the most interesting and endearing features of the book are the nonnas (grandmothers). Oliver features a number of nonnas from different parts of the country who specialise in particular dishes and cooking methods. He honours these phenomenal women through beautiful photographs and small snippets from their lives, all of which are simply fascinating to read. Nonna Rosina from Basilicata was a sheep herder and who has perfected lamb stew. Nonna Elena, the last Jewish nonna in Tuscany, entrusted her Jewish artichoke recipe to Oliver. Nonna Miriam taught Oliver the merits of patience and how old flavours and classic combinations are timeless. These are just a handful of the matriarchs you will encounter in the book.
In true Jamie Oliver style, the book offers a variety of both quick and more complicated recipes that you can try, depending on how ambitious you're feeling. Most of the ingredients are easy to acquire (but you might need a bottle of Italian wine here and there!). Some of the recipes are not what you'd expect, so you may be a little hesitant to try them – adding bread to soup while cooking will seem strange initially – but take the risk and be pleasantly surprised.
We tried our hand at three dishes of varying difficulty. The wholesome Tuscan soup, made with sausage, bread and beans, was fairly simple to prepare and felt a hug on the inside. The spicy black-pepper pasta proved to be the perfect meal to get rid of the sniffles (a lot more effective than chicken soup!) and the stuffed, braised celery was an unusual yet delicious dish that can transport you to Italia with just one bite.
All in all, the book is about simple, beautiful food that is completely authentic and achievable to make. Whether you are a fan of Italian food, or just Jamie Oliver in general, this will serve as a wonderful addition to your cookbook collection.