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May 2004

Stirring Stuff

Take some culinary inspiration from these new cookbooks

By Gennaro Contaldo
Headline, 2003

If you are a fan of Jamie Oliver, you will recognize Gennaro Contaldo from his regular appearances on the “Naked Chef” television series. Contaldo was born just 20 meters from the sea on Italy’s Amalfi coast, and enjoyed a carefree childhood. Two things that immediately strike the reader when looking through Passione are Contaldo’s natural talent for storytelling and his unrivaled passion for and knowledge of Italian food. The book is filled with delightful stories of his mischievous youth, which he typically spent playing hooky from school in order to spend the day outdoors with local fisherman or gathering herbs in the mountains. In an attempt to curb his son’s truancy, Contaldo Sr. one day dropped him off at his friend’s new restaurant to work in the kitchen. (Un)fortunately, the plan backfired. The 11-year-old Contaldo happily worked in the kitchen from 7 am to 11 pm all summer, eager to learn and fascinated by every detail. Passione combines childhood photographs, stories and personal anecdotes with recipes and the most popular dishes from Contaldo’s restaurant (Passione, in London’s Charlotte Street). He explains all essential Italian ingredients, the different types of preserved fish and meat and dishes up useful advice about cooking vegetables. The recipes are easy to follow, but with the emphasis on the freshest ingredients it will make you wish that you too could free-dive for oysters and forage for wild mushrooms rather than pay a visit to the local supermarket. The book is superbly presented and contains stunning photographs of both the food that Contaldo prepares and the Amalfi coast. Buon appetito!

By James Martin
Mitchell Beazley, 2003

“Accessible ingredients and easy preparation” is the mantra of Britain’s young celebrity chefs. However, if the proof of the pudding is not only in the eating, but also in the shopping and cooking, it is exactly here that many YBCs (Young British Chefs) fail to deliver. Many of the cookbooks published in the last few years require more skill and preplanning than most of us have. James Martin, on the other hand, is a down-to-earth Yorkshire lad whose reputation for a simple and hearty approach to cooking is well deserved. Though Martin is a trained chef, this book pays tribute to the more uncomplicated recipes that he learned from three women in his life—his mother, aunt and grandmother. Unashamedly nostalgic Martin focuses on British classics, from roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to spotted dick, as well as popular dishes that have been imported from overseas, such as chicken tikka masala and sherry trifle. The eight chapters cover all-day breakfasts, soups, tarts and terrines, roasts, pies and bakes, stews, pots and spicy foods, fish and seafood, vegetables and puddings and cakes. For the most part the recipes are made with staple supermarket ingredients and are reassuringly simple to prepare. While Martin’s writing style may sometimes be rather ungainly—we’re definitely in “bloke-land” here—Great British Dinners is sure to inspire many would-be cooks. In his introduction Martin acknowledges that while some of the recipes included might make culinary historians flinch, the food tastes great and, in the end, that’s what matters.

By Annabel Karmel
Ebury Press, 2003

Karmel is an international best-selling author of ten books and a respected authority on child nutrition. This book is intended to put the fun back into making packed lunches for children. It contains practical advice on preparing healthy packed lunches and tips on how to keep the food fresh and looking good. Divided into four sections—special sandwiches, savory specialties, crunchy salads and sweet sensations—a number of the recipes could also be used for other purposes (and some might argue that they are wasted on a child’s lunchbox!). The colorful book has been well researched and includes attractive photographs to tempt even the fussiest eaters. Karmel suggests involving your child in the process, from choosing what they would like to eat to helping with the preparation. The book serves as a useful guide to prompt a change in routine and to encourage new and more creative possibilities. And unlike many healthy eating guides, Karmel believes in moderation and balance rather than completely cutting out sweet treats. She proves a realistic source of information and takes into account that children have to feel comfortable with what they eat, to fit in with their peers as much as anything. Perhaps children’s culinary tastes have moved on since the author of this text was at school, because in her day children would have run a mile if they had opened their lunchbox to find a couscous salad or a ricotta, apricot and honey sandwich!

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