In 2011, my family and I spent three glorious weeks exploring the coastline, landscapes and cuisine of Northern Italy in the Piedmont, Liguria (including the fabled Cinque Terre), the honeyed sunsets of Tuscany, and magical Venice. From tasting Chianti in its hometown to slow food in Siena and browsing the market stalls of Florence, my trip left an indelible impression on me after years of only reading about Italy, and the cuisine was a world away from “Italian” cuisine I’d experienced living in the United States, Canada, Spain and Japan.
When I was offered the chance to review Gennaro Contaldo’s “Passione,” I snapped it up. I previously reviewed Gennaro “Italian Bakery”; a fixture in Jamie Oliver’s restaurants and Jamie’s mentor, his down-to-earth recipes capture the pleasures of life in the Italian countryside and are straightforward and unfussy – no complicated lists of hard-to-source ingredients, only pantry staples and seasonal produce (including fresh fava beans, basil, jewel-like strawberries and sun-ripened tomatoes).
'Featuring photographs from Gennaro’s childhood on the Amalfi coast, readers are also taken on a journey around Italy, with more than 100 recipes and formative stories of foraging for mushrooms, free-diving for oysters, and skipping school to go fishing llustrating his “free range” childhood that later influenced his cooking style (his restaurant Passione in Charlotte Street, London, was awarded Best Italian restaurant in 2005 and he more recently hosted his own TV series, Two Greedy Italians on PBS).
The included recipes in “Passione” are much lighter than what I normally think of as “Italian food,” my perception no doubt colored by Italian-American restaurants. The dishes are simple, fresh, and balanced, perfect for dining al fresco. You’ll find favorites like bruschetta, arancini, genuine Neopolitan pizza, focaccia with garlic and rosemary, and risottos alongside tagliatelle with fresh tuna, lemon and arugula, grilled lamb chops filled with prosciutto and herbs, orange and fennel salad, and a Neopolitan Easter wheat and ricotta tart.
The iconic flavors of southern Italy will transport you to a land of sunshine and lemons, seafood still glistening with droplets of salt water and tomatoes still warm from the sun. As a vegetarian, I loved unusual mains like eggplant slices with a Parmesan and polenta crust, stuffed artichokes and zucchini, various handmade gnocchis, carpaccio of smoke mozzarella cheese, stuffed fava bean cakes, and fresh, light vegetable salads and grilled vegetables. Desserts include semifreddo, lemon tart, and chocolate and red wine cake.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to your cookbook library that is perfect for any occasion – the short, accessible ingredient lists and straightforward preparations are doable by any level of home cook, and Gennaro offers a wealth of ways to incorporate a wealth of seasonal produce.
(Review copy courtesy of Interlink Books - grazie!)