Made in Italy

made-in-italy_jacketI have carried Made in Italy around with me for years. And that’s no easy feat; remember old Next catalogues? This cookbook is about the size of two of them riveted together with bayonets.

The cover is a startling white. Or at least it will be for a wee while. The North Sea Scullery copy has a beaten, splodged quality to it, like it has been in a knife fight in an old tyre dump. But no matter – whilst with most books it’s frustrating if a cover gets benkled in the slightest, with Cookbooks, it’s part of the whole joy of them. Tomato sauce, Chianti, grubby hands, moving from shelf to shelf, kitchen to kitchen, home to home: Made in Italy reflects its life.

It’s a Classic to me not just because of its wonderful recipes – and they are totally wonderful – but because of the big hearted humanity of the book. There aren’t many cookbooks that can rival this one for the utter love of food, of Italy, which boxes southpaw at you with a fervour from the pages.

It’s an emotional story, following young Giorgio from his youth in Italy to his success as a restauranteur. Lots of cookbooks have bits of backstory filleted into the various recipes, but this has the feel of cast iron veracity to it, as well as a kind of giddy and intoxicating passion, verismo. If Made in Italy was an opera, it would be Cavalleria Rusticana.

And what recipes. Since I first got this book – it’s 8 years old – I’ve flipped through from cover to cover, reading and re-reading, countless times. Some of the recipes are harder to cook, with some being sheer culinary restaurant fantasy for someone like me, but others are stripped and simple and gorgeous. The dishes list like something from the best restaurant in the world: Fried stuffed sardines, Chicken parcels in clear broth, Plaice with basil, potatoes and olives, Potato dumplings with tomato and rocket … It’s aspirational for most of us, sure, but this isn’t writing dislocated from reality, or upbringing, and the down to earth, appealing man from Italy Unpacked – he’s the man in this book.

Alongside the story, the recipes, the beautiful photography – of food, of people, places – there is an endless generosity of hard earned learning being shared, on pasta, on bread, on sauces, tomatoes, oil & everything. A really good example is the Locanda ragu recipe – in this one recipe generations of learning settle down to create a dish that has a grace in its simplicity and depth. The first time you get it right, it’s like waking up after years asleep.

I would literally weep if I lost my copy. Sure, I could get another book, but it wouldn’t be this one.