Talking Italian: We Chat Food and Family with Gennaro Contaldo

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows our love of all things Italian; the food, the country, the people… our family loves pretty much everything about it. If you are new and you didn’t know all this or you blinked and missed it, you can see our 2014 highlights in Italy on video here, and read about our two month Big Family Road Trip with 10 of our children (9 of whom were under ten at the time) here.

When we had the opportunity to interview wonderfully talented chef Gennaro Contaldo about his new book Slow Cook Italian for www.makeitshabby.com, we couldn’t help but slip in a few questions for Larger Family Life too.

Gennaro Contaldo was born in Minori on the Amalfi Coast of Italy and after cooking for a living in both Italy and England, he finally opened his own restaurant in London.

Well known for his enthusiasm and humour, Gennaro is a well-known face on TV and has released several cookbooks. Oh, and he’s also the chap who taught Jamie Oliver (and now Paddy - a keen Two Greedy Italians fan), how to cook.

 

Can you tell us a little about your new book Slow Cook Italian? What was the inspiration behind it?

I love slow cooking, it’s one of my favourite ways to cook – it’s stress free and the cooker or oven does its job while you can get on with other things in the safe knowledge that you will have a tasty, satisfying dish at the end.  The inspiration for most of the recipes come from the cooking of my childhood where my grandparents used to cook in a wood-fired oven and stove and most dishes were slow-cooked.

 

One thing we noticed during our family road trip around Italy was the rarity of fast food chains. I think during five weeks of travelling around we only noticed two McDonald’s outlets, both of which were situated by motorways. Would you say that preventing the country becoming saturated with fast food chains helps to preserve the appreciation that Italians have for proper, real food?

Even with fast food chains present in Italy (and this tends to be mainly in the bigger towns and cities), Italians being Italians and loving their mamma’s home cooked food, will never be totally reliant on fast food – they may try it once or twice and enjoy it, but will always go back to home cooking.  I hope that never changes.  In a small town in Puglia, McDonalds was forced out by the local community in preference for a bakery – now that tells you a lot about how Italians appreciate their food!

 

It seems that Italian’s main loves are family and food, revered more than any possessions. We were continuously stopped wherever we went for people to clasp their hands and say ‘Complimenti, complimenti!’ on seeing 11 of our young children in tow! Where there is family, there is food and vice versa, creating a homely, warm and welcoming atmosphere from the north to the south. Would you agree that Italian’s place importance on family and food rather than ‘stuff’?

Oh, most definitely – food and family are top priorities and the two go hand in hand!  When Italians are asked whether they enjoyed their holiday, they first talk about how and what they ate and then talk about the place.  This also happens when invited to a wedding, before talking about the bride, guests and venue, the usual question will be “Cosa avete mangiato?” (what did you eat?)

 

We travelled south to Vietri where we experienced the most delicious seafood caught freshly that morning. Around Naples there were fried seaweed dough balls called Zeppolini that were available. We had never come across these before and they were so tasty! The only problem was that they were so regional that even restaurants in Pisa or anywhere else in Italy hadn’t heard of them. We haven’t been able to find them again anywhere and cannot find the recipe anywhere either despite searching on the internet. Are you familiar with Zeppolini and do you have a recipe to share?!

Every region, town, village and even family have their own recipes, so I am not surprised this speciality is not known anywhere else.  I have never heard of them.    The balls probably come from Zeppole, the traditional doughnuts usually made on the feast of St Joseph on 19th March and during Carnevale.

 

Our seven-year old loves to cook and makes complete meals for us and 10 of his 12 siblings (the oldest two have now moved out). What advice would you give to encourage and instil a love of cooking further?

Firstly, lucky family to have a 7 year old cook complete meals!!!  I am very impressed!  My advice is to keep experimenting with different foods and recipes, take him or her to street markets and delis to see and sample produce and above all, enjoy the whole experience of shopping, cooking and eating!

 

While we pursue our quest to find the ever-elusive Zeppolini recipe, you can click here to read the rest of my interview with Gennaro Contaldo over at Make It Shabby.

Read our review of Gennaro’s Slow Cook Italian (published by Pavilion) here or buy your copy from Amazon now (rrp. £20.00).

Photo Credit: Laura Edwards

 

 

 

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