The Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the UK. According to the shopping comparison website, finder.com, 12 million people claim they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021. The Vegan Society say that the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 with 1.16% of the population (about 600,000) now living a vegan lifestyle. That’s a lot of home cooks and chefs on the look-out for something delicious and a bit more inventive than the ubiquitous mushroom risotto. With 200 Italian vegetarian recipes, many of them dairy free, gluten free or vegan (symbols identify which category or categories each recipe fits into, and there are lists for each category in the back of the book, making them quick and easy to find), The Vegetarian Silver Spoon is a godsend for anyone looking to expand their plant-based repertoire.

The book draws on the archives of The Silver Spoon, Italy’s bestselling cookbook first published in 1950, and also includes 150 new recipes developed by The Silver Spoon kitchen team. Divided into eight chapters, the book is a comprehensive survey of traditional and contemporary Italian vegetarian and vegan cooking covering snacks and small plates; breads and pizzas; salads and sides soups and stews;  pasta, dumplings and crepes; vegetable tarts and pastries;  grains, gratins and stuffed vegetables, and desserts.

There’s a homely feel to many of the recipes such as chard and chickpea soup with tofu; buckwheat lasagne with broccoli and eggplant-tomato strudel. Lesser known ingredients such as black chickpeas (used in a salad with apple and Jerusalem artichoke); millet (paired with beets and Romanesco), and Kamut flour (derived from Iranian red Khorasan wheat that’s high in protein, vitamins and minerals and used to make calzone with asparagus and egg) will invigorate any cook’s interest in meat and fish-free cooking, making The Vegetarian Silver Spoon a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

 

The Incredible Lemon Pie from Big Momma Cucina Popolare

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Lemon meringue tart (pie)

Per 6 amici

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Chilling time: overnight
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredienti
For the pastry (pie dough)
90 g/3 and 1/4 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
20 g/ 3/4 oz (scant 3 and 1/2 tablespoons) ground almonds (almond meal)
50 g/1 and 3/4 oz (generous 1/3 cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar
2 large (US extra large) eggs
150 g/5 oz (1 and 1/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the lemon custard
1 leaf (sheet) gelatine
3 unwaxed lemons
3 eggs
70 g/2 and 1/2 oz (1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
140 g/5 oz (1 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
For the Italian meringue
230 g/8 oz (scant 1 and 1/4 cups) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tablespoons water
juice of 1 lemon
4 egg whites

Come fare

Make the pastry. In a bowl, soften the butter with a spatula. In a mixer with a paddle (flat beater) attachment, beat the softened butter, ground almonds (almond meal) and icing (confectioners’) sugar until smooth. Then add the eggs, one at a time, while beating. Incorporate the flour and salt. Mix the pastry dough until crumbly. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Make the lemon custard. Soften the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Zest two of the lemons and squeeze all three. In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Combine the lemon juice, sugar and butter in a pan and bring to the boil. Gradually add the eggs, incorporating with a whisk. Cook over a low heat until the mixture comes to a gentle boil.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Squeeze the gelatine and incorporate. Add the lemon zest. Use an immersion blender to mix well. Put into an airtight container and rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4). Roll out the pastry dough into a 6-mm/1/4-inch-thick disc. Grease a tart pan with butter and line with the pastry. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

Make the Italian meringue. Dissolve the sugar into 2 tablespoons of water and the lemon juice in a pan over a low heat. Bring to the boil and cook until the mixture reads 120°C/250°F on a cooking thermometer. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, put a little of the syrup in a spoon and let one drop fall into a glass of cold water. If it forms a small, soft ball, the syrup is ready. In a grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Pour the syrup in a thin stream into the meringue while whisking until the mixture cools.

Fill the pastry case (shell) with the lemon custard. Use a plastic spatula to cover the tart with meringue, creating a dome in the centre. Caramelize with a chef’s blowtorch. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

Cool to know
‘If it’s not big, it’s not big enough’ is one of our mottos, so now you know why our meringue stands 20 cm/8 inches high…

Cook more from this book 
La Gran Carbonara
Green Pizz’

Read the review 

Buy this book
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95

Green Pizz’ from Big Momma Cucina Popolare

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Rapini (broccoli rabe) cream, finocchiona, mozzarella and pecorino pizza

Per 1 pizza

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Resting time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredienti

2 bunches rapini (broccoli rabe) or Tenderstem broccoli (broccolini)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
1/2 quantity (250 g/9 oz) Pizza Dough (see below)
5 thin slices of finocchiona or salami
90 g/3 and ¼ oz fior di latte (or mozzarella di bufala), roughly cut
70 g/2 and ½ oz (3/4 cup) grated pecorino, plus a few shavings to garnish
Salt

Come fare

Chop half the rapini (broccoli rabe) stalks (stems) and remove the leaves. Cook the rapini for 2 minutes in a large pan of salted boiling water. Drain, then immerse them in a large container of ice water to stop further cooking. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Make the rapini cream. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a high heat. Chop the remaining rapini stalks and fry with the anchovies for 15 minutes over a medium heat. Process everything in a food processor until you have a smooth cream.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9. Cover a baking sheet with baking (parchment) paper. On a floured work surface, roll out the pizza dough into a circle about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter and about 2 cm/ 3/4 inch thick.

Place the pizza base (crust) on the baking paper. Cover it with the rapini cream and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and add the chopped rapini, finocchiona slices and mozzarella. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the grated and shaved pecorino. Don’t wait, serve and enjoy immediately!

Cool to know
Finocchiona is a type of traditional Italian salami from Tuscany. Its name comes from ‘finocchio’ – meaning ‘fennel’ in Italian – which, along with pepper, gives this salami its distinctive flavour.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough
A tip from Giuseppe Cutraro

Per 2 pizze

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Rising time: 8 hours

5 g/1/8 oz (13/4 teaspoons) fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon fast-action dried (active dry) yeast
300 g/11 oz (2½ cups) soft (pastry) flour, such as Italian type ’00’
1 generous tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons fine salt

Come fare

Dissolve the yeast in 200 ml/7 fl oz (scant 1 cup) of lukewarm water. Sift the flour and add half to the water. Work by hand for 10 minutes, without leaving any lumps, gently mixing the liquid with the flour and kneading the resulting dough well. Incorporate the remaining flour,olive oil and salt.

Continue to knead by hand for 15 minutes until the dough is very smooth and comes off the work surface very easily.

Put into a bowl, cover with a wet cloth and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm room (about 24°C/75°F).

Dust a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the dough into two and put the dough balls onto the baking sheet. Cover with a cloth or lid without touching the dough and leave to rise in a warm room for 6 hours. The pizza dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.

How to stretch pizza dough

Neapolitan pizza-making is an art form (now recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO). Giuseppe Cutraro, our chief pizzaiolo, ‘made in Napoli’, explains how to stretch the dough. Professional tips below…

You begin by dusting your work surface (preferably marble to keep the temperature at about 20°C/70°F) with flour.

Put the dough on the work surface and start by stretching it with your hands to form a circle about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter. And here’s where things get a little tough: twirling the pizza with your hands. Unlike what you might think, you don’t toss the dough high into the air, even though it looks like a really cool thing to do. This can even be done on the work surface: make the dough into a circle by rotating it, or by repeatedly lifting it with the left hand while holding it with the right. These actions allow the dough to be stretched uniformly.

Then lay the dough on the work surface and start pushing it from the centre towards the edges with your finger, which pushes the air to the edges and creates a raised lip that is light and puffed when cooked. We pizzaioli call it a cornicione (‘cornice’). It’s the hallmark of genuine Neapolitan pizza – generous edges, about 2 cm/¾ inch, which puff up at 430°C/800°F in the wood-fired pizza oven.

Giuseppe started learning the trade at the age of 15, at the historic Starita a Materdei pizzeria in Naples. We will probably never equal his pizza-making skills, but we can at least pretend.

Cook more from this book 
La Gran Carbonara
The Incredible Lemon Pie

Read the review 

Buy this book
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95

La Gran Carbonara from Big Momma Cucina Popolare

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Spaghetti carbonara

Per 4 amici

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
30 minutes or less, 5 ingredients or less

Ingredienti

3 whole eggs and 6 egg yolks
90 g/3 oz (1 cup) grated pecorino cheese
90 g/3 oz (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon pepper
400 g/14 oz spaghetti
8 slices of guanciale (cured pork cheek/jowl), finely sliced

Come fare

In a bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the pecorino, Parmesan and pepper. Set aside.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, then drain, reserving the cooking water.

In the meantime, add the guanciale slices to a dry frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and sear for 5 minutes, or until crispy. Add 1 tablespoon of the pasta cooking water, followed by the spaghetti.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg mixture and mix briskly. The eggs should not cook too much and the consistency of the sauce should be creamy.

Transfer to a large serving dish and serve immediately.

Cool to know
You heard right: real Italian carbonara sauce is made without cream. Our chef Filippo La Gattuta makes a spectacle of serving it straight out of a big pecorino wheel at our London trattoria Gloria.

Cook more from this book
Green Pizz’
The Incredible Lemon Pie

Read the review 

Buy this book 
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95

Big Momma Cucina Popolare by Big Momma

Big Momma Cucina Popolare

What’s the USP? The surprisingly ‘serious’ cookbook from the bat shit crazy French-owned Big Momma Group of Italian restaurants that operates a total of 10 venues in France and the UK with Gloria and Circolo Popolare in Shoreditch and Fitzrovia respectively. In her review for the Times, Marina O’Loughlin said about Gloria that ‘the interior is over-upholstered, overdecorated, over the top, a shrieking hen-party antithesis to contemporary style. Food arrives in lurid ceramics’. She loved it.

What does it look like? O’Loughlin’s description holds true for the book, from the red cartoon cockerels strutting across the cover to the big brash food styling featuring the aforementioned ‘lurid ceramics’, heaped with colourful food, shot against clashing floral backgrounds and with ridiculous punning titles like ‘Egg Sheeran’ and ‘Eat Me Baba One More Time’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you like reading recipes at bedtime. Besides, the garish visuals will give you nightmares.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? A few bits and pieces like cuttlefish, whole octopus and guanciale may take a bit of effort, but you should have no problems for 90 per cent of the dishes with the remainder requiring a decent fishmonger or deli.

What’s the faff factor? The Big Momma Groupo might be young, dumb and full of rum (there are eight recipes in the book that call for the spirit) but this is restaurant food so you’ll need to be prepared on occasion to put your back into cooking some of the dishes, making and stuffing your own pasta and pizza dough and preparing ingredients like confit tomatoes.

Killer recipes?  Zuppa di pomodoro; pizz’n’roll (rolled pizza with fontina cheese); melanzane in carrozza (aubergine fritters with provolone cheese and tomato confit); carpaccio Sorrentino (beef carpaccio with courgettes and almonds); pasta e ceci con gamberi (pasta with chickpeas and prawns); big lasagna; the incredible lemon pie. 

What will I love? This is an exuberant and fun book, but it’s also packed with tips from the Big Mamma Group chefs on things like how to make pizza dough and pasta, how to make the perfect risotto and how to choose truffles and fresh fish.

What won’t I like? This is an in-yer-face book and you are either going to love the blousy visual style or hate it. Same goes for those groan-inducing dad-joke dish titles like Poulpilove, Elton Mess, Purple Rice and Dipsy Winky.

Should I buy it? If by some miracle you haven’t really cooked Italian food at home, this is a colourful, vibrant way to get started. It would also make the perfect present for someone who is a fan of the restaurants.

Cuisine: Italian 
Suitable for:
For beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Four stars

Buy this book
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95

Cook from this book
La Gran Carbonara
Green Pizz’
The Incredible Lemon Pie

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

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