Jamie Cooks Italy by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Cooks Italy jacket (1)

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.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Jamie Cooks Italy
£26, Michael Joseph

Green pasta bits by Jack Stein

Green Bits Pasta - 0781

This is a dish from my girlfriend, Lucy, who is from a Sicilian family. Lucy usually makes this on a Monday, when we have a ton of green vegetables left over from the Sunday roast. You can use virtually any green vegetable. Be sure to leave the Parmesan rind in the pasta to give it a lovely depth of flavour. If I have been busy at work and really want something comforting and healthy to eat, this is it.

Once when I was working at The Seafood Restaurant, an Italian woman was invited into the kitchen. While I was showing her around, she told me that the best way to cook pasta was her way. So here it is. Cook the pasta as usual, then, when it’s ready, drain it through a colander, being careful to collect the water in a pan. Add butter to the hot pasta, stir it through and pour the water back through the pasta again. This is the way I have cooked pasta ever since!

SERVES 4

3 tablespoons olive oil plus more if needed
1 onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g grated Parmesan cheese and Parmesan rind
500g dried rigatoni or penne
400g mixed green vegetables, such as fresh tenderstem broccoli, asparagus and spinach, and frozen peas (used here)
1 tablespoon butter plus an extra knob for the pasta
juice of ½ lemon
salt and pepper

Fill a pan of water for the pasta. Salt generously and bring to the boil.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion and chilli flakes and a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until soft but not coloured (about 5–10 minutes). Add the garlic and the Parmesan rind. Leave on the lowest possible heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Meanwhile add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 1 minute less than the packet instructions suggest.

Prepare the vegetables. Slice the broccoli stems and asparagus spears into 2cm pieces, keeping the heads intact. Add them to the pan containing the onion mixture, and turn up the heat, stirring so that they are covered with oil. Add 1 tablespoon butter and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes until they are softened but still have a bite.

Wash the frozen peas under warm water to defrost them; drain off the water and add the peas to the broccoli and asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Cut the spinach into strips and add to the pan; let it wilt down and add another pinch of salt. There should be enough oil to coat all the vegetables; if necessary, add a little more.

When the pasta is ready, drain it into a colander set over a large pan. Put the pasta back into the pan and stir through a knob of butter. Pour the collected water back into the pan to coat the pasta and drain over the large pan again.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Pour in the vegetable sauce and stir to make sure it is all combined. Add the lemon juice and a handful of Parmesan and stir these through, along with a final tablespoon or two of the pasta cooking water.

Plate up the pasta and vegetables and top with more Parmesan, black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Pineapple tart tatin

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Buy this book
Jack Stein’s World on a Plate: Local produce, world flavours, exciting food
£26, Absolute Press

Extract taken from Jack Stein’s World on a Plate by Jack Stein (Absolute Press, £26)
Photography © Paul Winch-Furness

Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold

What is it?
Italy’s greatest gift to modern gastronomy, the three Michelin-starred, Modena-based chef Massimo Bottura of the former number one restaurant in the world Osteria Francescana follows up his 2014 book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef with a compendium of recipes from his charitable ‘soup kitchen’ project Refettoria Ambrosiano that he created for Expo 2015 in Milan set in Teatro Greco, an abandoned and restored 1930’s theatre. The project continues to run as a community kitchen for homeless shelters using waste food from supermarkets.

What’s the USP?
All the dishes in the book were created by Bottura and dozens of other high profile chefs from around the world from ‘waste’ food from the Expo including wilted veg, bruised or over-ripe fruit and meat, fish poultry and diary close to their expiration date that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Who are these mysterious ‘friends’ who share the author credit?
Massimo is a well-connected guy and counts the likes of Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Daniel Humm and Ferran and Albert Adria among his many mates (more than 45 chefs have contributed to the book).

If Refettoria Ambrosiano is a soup kitchen, am I getting 400-odd pages of soup recipes?
Not quite. There are a dozen or so soups and broths including Redzepi’s Burnt Lime soup and Fish Soup with Bread Gnocchi by Antonia Klugmann from L’Argine a Vencó restaurant in Italy, but the 150 recipes cover the usual starters, mains and desserts. Given the nature of the project (a chef jetted in for a day and improvised a meal for a hundred people using whatever ingredients were to hand) some repetition of ideas and ingredients is inevitable. So there’s nine meatballs recipes, two for meatloaf and dozens involving stale bread; no surprise given the book’s title.

About that title, bread isn’t gold is it? Otherwise that loaf of sliced white going mouldy in my cupboard would be worth a fortune.
It’s the name of a Bottura signature dish created in memory of his late mother and based on the chef’s childhood memory of eating zuppa di latte or milk soup for breakfast which he made by grating leftover bread into a bowl of warm milk with sugar and a splash of coffee. The recipe, included in the book, is made from layers of salted caramel ice cream, caramel bread croutons and bread and sugar cream topped with a bread crisp sprinkled with edible gold dust.

Why should I buy the book?
Food waste in professional kitchens continues to be a big talking point and Bottura is leading the discussion. The book provides lots of inspiration for how to use produce that might otherwise end up in the bin which means you’re not only doing the world some good, but it could well help you cut your food costs. As well as the recipes, it’s also a great read with a one-page introduction to each chef, explaining how they prepared their meals and telling the story of the project.

What won’t I like?
At £29.95, you might expect hard-covers and glossy pages. What you actually get is soft covers and what appears to be recycled, matt paper which means the images are not as pin sharp as you might like. However, it’s all in keeping with the ‘make do’ ethos of Bottura’s Food For Soul charity that Refettoria Ambrosiano is a part of and to which all royalties from the book will be donated to, so stop complaining!

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
£29.95, Phaidon
Bread Is Gold

Lasagne with sausage meatballs by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Lasagne with Sausage Meatballs

When it was our oldest daughter’s turn to have her school playgroup over for dinner, I asked her what she wanted me to make and she requested lasagne. I’ve never been a huge fan of lasagne, which is usually a bit bland and stuffed with too much melted cheese for my taste, so I challenged myself to create a version that was full of flavour and a bit surprising. I added a lot of garlic and little balls of sausage in addition to the minced beef, and layered it with a lightly cheesy béchamel sauce, and it really took it to the next level for me. This requires a bit of work, but it serves a big crowd.

Serves 9-12

MEAT SAUCE
Extra-virgin olive oil 90 ml (3 fl oz)
Onions 2
Garlic cloves 8
Minced beef 800 g (1. lb)
Whole peeled tomatoes in juice 3 400g (14 oz) tins
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

BECHAMEL
Salted butter 110 g (4 oz)
Plain flour 70 g (2. oz)
Whole milk 950 ml (1. pints)
Fine sea salt
Sweet Italian pork sausage 450 g (1 lb)
Pre-cooked pasta sheets 450 g (1 lb)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 225 g (8 oz), freshly grated

1. Make the meat sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large casserole dish over medium-high heat. Chop the onions, adding them to the pan as you go. Do not stir until the onions are beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they turn a deep golden brown, about 3 minutes more. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife and discard the papery skins. Coarsely chop the garlic and stir it into the pan.

2. Push the onion mixture to one side of the pan and add 2 more tablespoons of the oil. Crumble the minced beef into the pan, avoiding the onions. Let the meat cook for 2 minutes to lightly brown on the bottom. Using a wooden spatula, break up the meat and stir it into the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices and stir to combine, crushing the tomatoes with the spatula.

3. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until it has thickened slightly, about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the remaining oil. Season to taste. Stirring in a bit of extra oil will help emulsify the sauce and give it more body.

4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan).

5. Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a thick, paste-like roux. Let it bubble for about a minute but don’t let it brown. Raise the heat to medium. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer over medium-low heat, whisking often and making sure the bottom doesn’t scorch, until it is lightly thickened and smooth, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

6. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings, forming it into small balls. Add them to the pan and cook until they are lightly browned and their fat has rendered. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage balls to the sauce and combine gently.

7. Spread about 240 ml (8½ fl oz) of the meat sauce in a 23 x 33-cm (9 x 13-inch) baking dish. Top with a layer of lasagne sheets. Cover with about a quarter of the remaining meat sauce, a quarter of the béchamel, and sprinke with 60 g (2 oz) of the Parmigiano. Repeat to make 3 more layers. (You may have lasagne sheets left over.) Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano.

8. Bake the lasagne until it is bubbling and browned, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 20 minutes before serving. Don’t cut into the lasagne too soon or it will fall apart when you serve it. Even 20 minutes isn’t too long a resting period, and it will still be hot.

Extracted from Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi
(Ebury Press, £27)
Photography by Ditte Isager

Cook more from this book
Roasted ratatouille with orzo
Danish apple dessert

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Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home
£26 Ebury

River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray

River Cafe 30

River Cafe 30 commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential restaurants in London. Before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened what was a nine table lunchtime-only canteen for the architects and designers who work in the converted Thames Wharf warehouse in Hammersmith that houses the restaurant, there were only fake trattorias serving generic Italian fare. The River Cafe introduced the notion of regional Italian cooking to the UK; of new season’s olive oil, cavalo nero, Tuscan bread soups, hand made pasta and the infamous flour-less Chocolate Nemesis cake, a recipe that no home cook it seemed could master, me included.

Taken purely as a collection of recipes, there is much to recommend River Cafe 30. This is simple, delicious, ingredient-led food requiring, in most cases, minimal skill from the home cook. If you can’t afford the premier league Italian produce that the restaurant’s reputation stands and falls by, then you’ll still derive a huge amount of pleasure from knocking up dishes like linguine with crab; spinach and ricotta gnocchi and pork cooked in milk. The ‘salsa’ chapter alone could transform your repertoire with killer sauces like bagnet made with capers, anchovies, bread, parsley, garlic, eggs, vinegar and oil.

However, this is not a book for the faint of wallet. The basic pasta recipe requires 13 eggs and that chocolate cake, one of a number of recipes recycled from the restaurant’s famous ‘blue’ cookbook from 1995, calls for well over half a kilo of ‘best quality’ dark chocolate. Follow River Cafe 30 to the letter and you’ll be bankrupt and homeless, although you will have a bit of extra fat to live off before you have to sell your extra virgin olive-oiled body to the night.

River Cafe 30 is a beautiful object with a vivid colour scheme inspired by the restaurant’s bright pink wood-fired oven, yellow pass and blue carpet. There are reproductions of menus drawn or painted on by artist fans that include Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig Martin along with evocative black and white photography depicting life in River Cafe’s open kitchen (one of the first in the country) and a moving tribute to the late Rose Gray by Ruth Rogers.

But where is the celebration of the countless chefs that have passed through The River Cafe’s kitchen? Not one word about Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Theo Randall, to name but three of the most high profile alumni. Three decades of culinary history are condensed into two brief pages of text plus some architectural drawings, a sample of one of the first menus and an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1996.

Recipe introductions are sparse with little information about why dishes have been singled out for inclusion, their regional derivation or how they fit into the restaurant’s history. There isn’t even so much as a hint of how to use all those salsas.

Despite high production values, there is more than a whiff of cash-in about River Cafe 30. No doubt it will sell by the bucket load, especially to special occasion diners in search of a memento (River Cafe remains an exceptional place in which to eat your tea), but I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity to properly celebrate one of Britain’s true culinary landmarks.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
Food Photography by Matthew Donaldson
£28 Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage by Ruth Rogers

veal shin with barolo and sage
Veal shin photographed by Matthew Donaldson

The longer this cooks the better – in the River Cafe we often serve this simply with bruschetta.

Serves 6-8

2 veal shins,  about  1.5kg each,  trimmed of excess fat extra virgin olive oil
a bunch  of fresh  sage leaves
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bottle  Barolo
250g peeled plum tomatoes from a jar, drained  of their juices

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Heat an ovenproof pot or flameproof casserole (that has a lid) over a high heat. Meanwhile, season the shins generously with sea salt and black pepper. Carefully add 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the shins to the hot pot and fry until golden brown all over, turning the shins every few minutes.

Add the sage leaves, bay leaves and garlic. Sizzle for a few seconds, then pour
in the wine. Arrange the shins so the exposed bone side is facing down. Add the tomatoes, broken up a little. Cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and then the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven.

After 1 hour, turn the shins over and reduce the oven temperature to 150°C. Cover the pot again and cook for a further 2 hours, basting the shins with the roasting liquid a couple of times to keep the meat moist. The veal shins are ready when the meat threatens to fall away from the bone. Serve with the marrow from the bone and some of the roasting liquid.

Extracted from
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press

Cook more from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella

Read the review

Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella by Ruth Rogers

risotto amarone di valpolicella
Risotto photographed by Matthew Donaldson

300ml Chicken Stock
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
1 head celery, washed and finely chopped
300g risotto rice
750ml Amarone di Valpolicella wine
150g Parmesan, freshly grated a little double cream (optional)
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Heat the Chicken Stock and check for seasoning. Melt two-thirds of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion and celery for about 20 minutes or until light brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with butter.

Increase the heat and gradually pour in 500ml of the wine, slowly letting the wine be absorbed by the rice. Then add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, stirring all the time and only adding more stock when the rice has absorbed the previous addition.

When all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is almost cooked, gradually add the remaining wine, stirring. The rice will have taken on the colour of the wine.

Add half the Parmesan and the remaining butter or a little cream and season, taking care not to overstir. Serve with the rest of the Parmesan and a drizzle of cream on top, if using.

Extracted from
River Cafe 30 by River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press

Cook more from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Read the review