What’s the USP? According to the author’s introduction, it’s ‘your go-to Italian book, a manual of deliciousness’. According to recent reports in the press, it’s part of a carefully planned strategy to help shore up the ailing Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. Jon Knight, chief executive of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group was quoted as saying that, “We lost touch with Jamie, there was a growing disconnect between what Jamie was doing on TV and in his books – people weren’t experiencing that in the restaurants”. So, what better way to realign Jamie’s Italian the restaurant with Jamie the chef than a TV series and cookbook tie-in all about Italy?
Who’s the author? You might have heard of Jamie Oliver. He’s the chef that was recently accused of cultural appropriation for selling ‘Punchy Jerk Rice’ in supermarkets (even though there’s no such thing as jerk rice) and caused outrage with his attempts to curb junk food advertising and extend the sugar tax with accusations of taking food out of poor people’s mouths and hypocrisy, given that his Jamie’s Diner restaurant in Gatwick Airport serves burgers and shakes. He’s also one of the most famous chefs in the world who helped revolutionise food on TV with his debut series The Naked Chef in the 90’s and has a long track record of philanthropy. So, take your pick.
What does it look like? Bold, bright and colourful, there’s nothing subtle about this book. Long-time collaborator David Loftus’s photos seem supersaturated with Sicilian (and many other Italian regions) sun and even the recipe titles are printed in a vibrant sunshine yellow.
Is it great bedtime reading? Not really. A brief introduction and the pen pictures of the various Nonna’s that Oliver has tapped up for recipes on his travels around Italy are brief, superficial and not particularly well written.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients?
As ever, a Jamie Oliver recipe is all about accessibility so you’ll have no problem finding pretty much everything you need, bar the odd grouper or rabbit with its offal intact, at the supermarket
What’s the faff factor?
The preparation times given for the wide range of recipes in the book start at 15 minutes to knock up golden breaded tuna with Aeolian spaghetti with lemon, capers, pecorino, chilli and herbs to five hours plus marinating overnight for ‘wildest boar ragu’ so the ‘faff factor’ really depends on whether you feel life’s too short to stuff your own agnolotti.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes?
If you’re expecting Jamie to be all gor-blimey-guv’ner-bish-bosh-bash-glug-of-oil-matey you’ll be disappointed; even half a bunch of flat leaf parsley is given an indicative weight (15g if you’re interested).
How often will I cook from the book?
This is a something-for-every-occasion sort of book which you may easily find yourself reaching for mid-week for a simple supper or for a weekend of pasta making and baking.
Killer recipes? Semolina teardrop dumplings from the Aosta Valley in Northwest Italy (a sort of spätzle, traditional to the Walsers community in Italy that has Swiss and German roots); baked risotto pie with sweet spicy squash and oozy cheeses; panissa rice with smoked pancetta, cured meats, borlotti beans, tomatoes and red wine, and many others
What will I love? There is no question that Italy is Oliver’s greatest inspiration (watch the Jamie’s Italy or Jamie Cooks Italy TV series and you can see pure joy in his face) and thanks to that TV budget, he and his team have been able to research the recipes first hand, so this is no hastily thrown-together cash in.
What won’t I like? Oliver has a very distinctive food writing voice, one that bursts with enthusiasm and which never leaves a hyperbolic statement unturned; you’ll either love it or it will grate. If you don’t appreciate the flavour of rosemary being described as ‘genius deep savouriness’ then you might want to turn to more level-headed writers like Anna Del Conte or Elizabeth David for your Italian fix.
Should I buy it? Does the world need another Jamie Oliver cookbook, especially another Jamie Oliver cookbook on Italian food, especially given that he published the excellent Jamie’s Italy back in 2005? In fact, there is very little, if any crossover between the two books, quite a feat given that together they run to more than 700 pages. Oliver divides opinion, but if you are a fan, and I am, then this is a welcome 21st addition to the chef’s ever-growing canon.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars
Buy this book
Jamie Cooks Italy
£26, Michael Joseph