Jamie Oliver was one of the first chefs I watched on a semi regular basis on television. I loved seeing him go out and shop in the local markets, buying up deliciously fresh produce and meats and then come home and prepare really incredible, creative dishes. I have a few of his cookbooks, my favorite, of course, being "Jamie's Italy" that he published a few years ago. It is my favorite because he really gets to the heart of what Italian cooking is all about, regional family traditions. He spent months traveling through the Italian countryside, learning, working, eating and with local farmers, village bakers, cheese makers, grape pickers, and pasta making mamas.
The Italians are more passionate about food than any other people on the planet, period. What we have found when traveling and taking cooking lessons is that they don't use a lot of hard to find ingredients (they only use what is fresh) or complicated preparations but their cooking can be very complex in the little touches, the age old techniques and intricacies, passed down from generations that help you achieve a certain flavor or texture. That is what makes their food so special and so varied from region to region and even village to village. And Jamie gets it. It is evident in his book that he experienced this first hand and his book is a testament to the fresh, country food of the local villages, but with his signature creative touches.
As with Lidia Bastianich's cookbooks, I find Jamie's recipes spot on in terms of measurements and preparations. Just follow his directions and you will achieve something special, I promise! I've cooked quite a few of the recipes from his soups, pastas, risotto, fish and meat dishes and have never been disappointed. (click here for this week's recipes, Porchetta and Lasagne alla Cacciatora, adapted from Jamie's book)
One of the other aspects of the book that really makes me miss Italy is the photos by David Loftus and Chris Terry. Not just the photos of the food which are gorgeous, but of the people he met on his journey. They really capture the soul of the Italian people, their pride and passion, and take me right back to the places we've visited over the years.
So if you are looking for a book from an outsiders view, someone who didn't experience these traditions from birth like Lidia, but who really threw themselves wholeheartedly into the experiencing what Italian country food is all about, this book is for you. I really like Jamie's quote on the back cover because it is absolutely how I feel about Italy:
"You know what? I should have been Italian. The truth is, when I'm in Italy, I feel Italian."
If you are interested in checking it out, click here Jamie's Italy.