It’s always a delight to get a new book by Theo Randall. Head chef and proprietor of his eponymous restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane since 2006, and before that, famously head chef of The River Cafe, Randall knows his way around an Italian recipe. His fourth collection is dedicated to his late mother and is inspired by her pantry that was stocked with produce from vineyards and markets collected on family holiday camping trips to Italy.
The book is divided into ten chapters, each themed around what Randall considers ‘essential Italian ingredients’ including tomatoes, polenta, parmesan, pine nuts, porcini and ricotta, as well as things that are less instantly recognisable as Italian such as breadcrumbs, lemons and leafy greens. All however are used to fine effect in delicious sounding dishes you’ll want to cook and eat. The book errs on the side of comfort food with warming oven baked dishes including aubergine and courgette lasagne and slow cooked chicken thighs with porcini mushrooms and marsala but there are lighter options too including a quinoa and charred vegetable salad.
Whether writing about familiar dishes like pork shoulder cooked in milk (a version of a River Cafe classic) or some less well-known Italian specialities that he’s unearthed such as torta pastiera (a pie from Sorrento filled with grano cotto – cooked wheat – rice, eggs and ricotta) Randall is always informative and engaging.
In the introduction to the recipe for a simple Meyer lemon cake, he reminisces about his time working at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters in California where the thin-skinned fruit that Randall says taste like a cross between mandarin and lemon ‘grew in people’s back gardens, just like apples trees do in the UK, and are so plentiful you can barely give them away when they are in season’. It’s evocative stuff and the book is full of similarly inspirational anecdotes and musings that will have you raiding the Italian larder as enthusiastically as Randall himself.
This review was originally published in The Caterer.
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy this book
The Italian Pantry by Theo Randall
£26, Hardie Grant