There are 26 regions of Italy and each is as distinct in culture and tradition as though they are separate nations. So you can imagine how distinctive the food is from region to region, let alone how different the food is in a city like Rome compared to its country-town counterparts. That’s where passionate foodie Colman Andrews’ quality cookbook ‘The Country Cooking Of Italy’ differs to the usual fodder that is written up about Italian cuisine. Honestly, even Jamie gets it wrong at times when he’s going on about anything outside of the more common Italian dishes like spaghetti or arancini. Andrews, instead, presents dishes that are innovative and unique, but ones made with accessible ingredients. Most Italian cooking, after all, tends to derive from the simpler fare.
The author kicks off with antipasti in the first chapter, followed by soups, pastas, rices and polentas, right through to pies, focaccias and seafood, meat and game dishes. Even the delicate genre of offal gets an entire chapter to itself (try as he might, though, I will never get used to the taste of tripe).
Don’t expect to see dishes akin to those spotted on your local Italian restaurant menu. Rather, Colman includes recipes of little-known, very interesting dishes as ‘Ripiddu Nivicatu’, a cuttlefish and ricotta risotto from Catania, Sicily, or ‘Mappina’, a marinated lettuce dish from Calabria (the word itself means dish clothe in southern Italian dialect). There are some complex dishes, for sure, but for the most part preparation and ingredient-sourcing is pretty easy, such as with the simple ‘Aquasale’ (pictured) made of tomatoes, onions, parsley, olive oil, ground pepper and sea salt (it’s name literally translates to ‘salt water’) and served with stale bread that has been toasted (yes, nothing is wasted in an Italian kitchen).
With Italian cooking it’s important not to get too caught up with rules. This is a culture that has always like experimenting with its cooking, and like the Italians, Colman rarely uses exact measurements. It’s interesting that he even writes about the Italian culinary concept of ‘q.b.’ or ‘quanto basta’ which means ‘when there’s enough’. I remember witnessing my mother whipping up dishes in the kitchen every night, and rarely did she measure the amount of oil going into the mixing bowl. Somehow, still, every dish turned out glorious.
If you aren’t of Italian stock and can’t turn to your Mamma or Nonna for innovative cooking tips, this book is the next best thing.
‘The Country Cooking Of Italy’ is published by Chronicle and distributed through Hardie Grant Books (RRP $59.95).