No fewer than six new Italian food cookbooks are out this summer – which one should you get?
This summer, there are at least six major cookery books on Italy – all beautifully illustrated with scenes of Italian street life, covering different regions of the country from the far south of Sicily to the far north of the Veneto.
It’s no surprise to see publishers concentrate on Italy: the country’s passion for food and the simplicity of its cooking is perfectly in tune with today – and not a quinoa recipe in sight.
All these books have things to recommend them, but which one – or ones – should you buy? Leslie Geddes-Brown takes a look.
Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy (Headline Home, £25)
First choice must be Rachel Roddy’s Two Kitchens, 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.
Sicily by Melissa Miller (Rizzoli, £29.95)
In this book 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.
Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Phaidon, £24.95)
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.
Passione by Gennaro Contaldo (Pavilion, £20)
The only celeb book in this list is this effort by the main who mentored Jamie Oliver and teamed up with Antonio Carluccio for the BB2 series Two Greey Italians, Gennaro Contaldo 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.
The book has an awful front cover and interior design (why choose a typeface that’s so hard to read?), but has more than 100 satisfying recipes.
Acquacotta by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant, £25)
Further north still, up to the Maremma on the coast of southern Tuscany, and we have the latest book 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.
Veneto by Valeria Necchio (Guardian Books and Faber, £20)
From the north of Italy, Veneto 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.