When I first flicked through a copy of ‘The Italian Cookery Course’ by Katie Caldesi, published by Kyle Cathie, I was truly enthralled. It is a beautiful cookbook filled with techniques, masterclasses, ingredients and traditional Italian recipes, collated by Katie during her travels across the twenty regions of Italy. What separates this book from other Italian cookery books is the vast scope and selection of recipes and advice offered, giving the reader a real insight into the diversity of Italian cooking. Every detail of Italian cooking is examined and it will certainly inspire you not only to want to cook Italian food, but more importantly, how to cook it like an Italian.
Born in an English seaside town, Katie was first introduced to Italian food by Tuscan-born husband Giancarlo some twelve yeas ago. They now run two restaurants and a cookery school together, but this book, her first solo project, has earned Katie the title of “honorary Italian” from her proud husband. In his forward, he compares Katie to “a taxi driver who does “the knowledge” in order to understand how to get from street to street”. Learning not only from Giancarlo and their chefs, but also first-hand from the homes of many Italian Mammas and their families, Katie shows that it is possible to unlock the secrets of good Italian cooking and how to incorporate them into everyday life.
Seasonality plays an important role in authentic Italian cookery; Italians will always select the freshest ingredients available but the true essence of Italian cooking begins with a love of food. Despite fierce regional competition over recipes and specialities, one thing is undisputed across the whole of Italy – the most important thing in life is sitting down with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy whatever may be on offer.
Written with the courses of an Italian meal in mind, the book begins with an introduction to the Wines of Italy, moving on to Bread, Pizza and Savoury Pastries, followed by Antipasti, Soup and Stocks and a thorough look at Pasta, Rice and Polenta. Fish, Meat, Poultry and Game are all given individual attention with the Italian love of fresh vegetables highlighted in a chapter dedicated to Vegetables and Salad.
The final three chapters are also filled to the brim with regional specialities, homing in on ‘Dolci’ (desserts) and an exploration of Italian cheese. The book draws to a close with home made preserves, where seasonal produce is captured at its best – everything from apricots to figs and tomatoes to artichokes being bound in liqueurs or syrups to extend our enjoyment across the seasons.
Each chapter opens with a thorough introduction of what is to follow. For example, in ‘Pane’, the significance of bread in daily Italian life is explained, with examples of traditional styles, baking notes, useful tips on equipment and the different types of flours and grains used in Italian baking. A ‘masterclass’ follows, incorporating many types of bread from ‘Pane Semplice’ (Quick White Bread) to differently shaped and flavoured breads, such as ‘Pane Con Sarde’ (Sicilian Panini with Anchovies, Mozarella, Tomatoes and Basil), pizza, and ending with ‘Torta fritta’ (hot fried dough squares from Parma).
There are simple starting points throughout the book (advice on choosing tomatoes, how to clean an artichoke, selecting a good Italian cheese) and even a beginner could easily impress with a selection of authentic Italian ‘Antipasti’ from every region in Italy. Italian cold meat cuts, known as ‘Salumi’, are explained in full with a useful pictorial guide. Follow Katie’s tips on buying olives and throw in a good bottle of Italian wine and you will be well on your way to creating a wonderful meal.
More complex challenges are also on offer, such as making homemade pasta coloured with spinach or beetroot, to filleting fish, preparing seafood, de-boning a chicken or jointing a rabbit. All the stages of cooking are explained along with advice on how to build flavours, for example by making a ‘Soffritto’, the ‘holy trinity’ of vegetables for soups, stews and stocks – also crucial to a good risotto. Zuppa di orzo e frutti di mare (Barley Soup with Seafood) stands out for me.
Only four out of Italy’s twenty regions do not have a coastline, making fishing a popular Italian pursuit. ‘Spiedini di Pesce e Gamberoni con Arance e Alloro’ (Salmon, Prawn and Tuna Kebabs with Orange and Bay Leaves) is a typical Southern Italian recipe, making the most of this abundance.
Meat courses are also regionally inspired. Your masterclass in ‘Carne’ will tell you that pork is “the king of the table” in Tuscany, goat features more in the south of Italy, with sausages, deeply flavoured casseroles and game such as venison, wild boar or hare more common in the north.
Vegetables and salads offer great seasonal inspiration with many Italians growing their own. Key herbs are highlighted alongside vegetarian recipes, such as Baked Red Peppers with Four-Cheese Soufflé, and tips on recognising mushrooms and finding truffles.
Desserts are as varied as the regions from which they are taken, with ‘la passeggiata’ (dressing up after dinner and taking a stroll, often to the local ‘gelateria’ or ice-cream shop) being an important part of Italian family life. I look forward to trying the ‘Torta Caprese’ (Chocolate and Almond Cake from Salerno) and ‘Torta Contadina’ (Franca’s Pear Cake which can be varied to include seasonal fruits). The ‘Sfinci’ (Cinnamon Doughnuts) and Camicia da Notte (Nutella pizza) are also begging to be made.
With glimpses of Italian family life, a real focus on seasonal food, artisan producers and stunning scenery beautifully captured by photographer Lisa Linder (www.lisalinder.com), this would book is a really important addition to any kitchen bookshelf. It certainly inspired me to want to visit Italy again. Although a book to dip into, the ‘masterclasses’ break down some of the more complex processes and mean that you can have a go at creating a wonderful Italian feast.
Standing up strongly on its own, this book is also a great accompaniment to any of Katie’s cookery classes. It is a book of which the author must be very proud – accomplished and reflecting true authenticity.
To learn more about Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s cookery courses and restaurants: www.caldesi.com
To follow Katie Caldesi on Twitter: @KatieCaldesi
Photographer Lisa Linder: www.lisalinder.com
Ren Behan’s website: www.renbehan.com
To follow Ren Behan on Twitter: @RenBehan