Gennaro Contaldo: The Italian Job
Cited as the man who taught Jamie Oliver everything he knows, legendary chef Gennaro Contaldo chats to Ting Dalton about his love of pasta and the similarities between Surrey and Tuscany (almost!)
Gennaro Contaldo loves pasta – and it is his obsession for food that inspired young protégé Jamie Oliver back in the early 1990s when they were both working at the famous Neal Street Restaurant, which was owned by Antonio Carluccio. In fact, Gennaro taught the Essex chef everything he knows about Italian cooking, and even considers him his ‘sixth child’. But that aside, Gennaro has his own legions of fans who love watching his often hilarious and passionate antics on cooking shows such as Saturday Kitchen, as well as on his YouTube channel, where he shares delicious recipes…
Tell us about your new book Pasta Perfecto!
A whole book dedicated to my favourite food – pasta! Like most Italians, I can eat pasta every day and you can too, with lots of traditional but also more modern pasta dishes. I’ve split the book into four chapters – dried pasta, fresh, filled and baked – so there are lots of recipes to choose, from a simple everyday tomato sauce tossed through some spaghetti, to more elaborate filled pastas and bakes.
Do you think people still get frightened by making fresh pasta?
I hope not! If you’ve never made fresh pasta, I suppose it can be a little daunting, but as long as you get the 00 pasta flour, good organic free-range eggs and invest in a small pasta machine, you really can’t go wrong. I promise…
Do you have any tips for Christmas? What do you cook for your family during the festive period?
My main tip for Christmas is to cook whatever you enjoy to eat! It really doesn’t have to be turkey. We normally have capon (cockerel) for our main course on Christmas Day and my friend, Paolo, usually makes Marubini – a mixed-meat-filled ravioli traditionally eaten in his northern home town of Cremona and served with a lovely delicate broth. To recreate a taste of my Christmas in southern Italy, I always make sweet treats like Zeppole, Struffoli, and Chiacchere – which is deep-fried and delicious.
You’re well known for being close to Jamie Oliver. How does it feel to be his mentor?
I just love it. But, more and more as the years have progressed and the more we do together, I definitely learn more from him! Such as when we recently went around Italy together for his Channel 4 series Jamie Cooks Italy.
Is there a particular region in Italy that you just love?
I love all of Italy for its food and diversity. The one region, though, which always springs to mind for good, simple, honest home-cooking is Puglia – often known as “the table of Italy”. I enjoy visiting the little family-run trattorias of the region and sampling their delicious local cheese, cured meats, freshly-made orecchiette pasta and their amazing bread.
You were recently here in the area at the Surrey Hills Food Festival…
I loved coming to Dorking. Box Hill and Denbies are just so beautiful. It was such a revelation to see vineyards in the UK. It was a gloriously sunny day and for just a moment, I thought I was in Tuscany! The Surrey Hills Food Festival was really special with some amazing and talented artisan producers. The one stall that stood out for me was the excellent olive oil from Crete, produced using traditional methods by two brothers from Two Fields Zakros.
You were good friends with Antonio Carluccio, who was a Time & Leisure Food & Culture Awards ambassador for many years. Do you have fond memories of your adventures together filming Two Greedy Italians?
Absolutely! Although filming was hard work, I loved every bit of it with Antonio, revisiting old haunts as well as new parts of Italy. Travelling and cooking together was so much fun and we shared many beautiful adventures in our beloved homeland.
What are your plans for Christmas?
It will be a quiet time with family and friends. But that will be perfect!
Pasta Perfecto! is out now priced at £18.99