I am always a bit wary of chefs who release cookbooks about “simple” food – their idea of simplicity does not always tally with mine. Theo Randall’s My Simple Italian (2015), however, is one book that home cooks can actually cook from, without the need for specialised equipment and ingredients.
But, of course, for the British chef behind two eponymous Italian restaurants – at the InterContinental in London and the InterContinental Grand Stanford, in Hong Kong – having a pantry ready stocked with Italian ingredients does make life easier.
As Randall writes in the introduction, “With simple dishes, the quality of ingredients you use is very very important, and it helps if you have a storecupboard that is well-stocked with jars and cans of things like olives, fish, capers and tomatoes, as well as packets of polenta, risotto rice, pasta and dried porcini.
“Combining these with fresh vegetables, meat, cheese and so on, you can put together a tasty dish with ease.”
“Be on the lookout for ingredients when you travel, too. I always say that if you are in Italy and you see olive oil, dried porcini mushrooms, parmesan cheese or balsamic vinegar, buy some because it will invariably be good quality and cheaper than at home – and it will add a bit more inspiration to your cooking.”
Even if you don’t have time to take a shopping trip to Italy, the staples Randall recommends having to hand can be bought at supermarkets.
In addition to a standard alphabetical index, Randall categorises recipes according to the total time it takes to prepare them. Dishes that take under 20 minutes include sea bass carpaccio; omelette with goats’ curd and lavender honey; and macerated apricots with amaretto and toasted almonds.
If you have a little more time, you can make hot chicken livers on crostini; pan-fried squid with beans, chilli, anchovy and rocket; panzanelle; and sardines grilled with fennel sticks and served with slow-cooked red peppers.
With 45 minutes, you can cook risotto with peas, prosciutto and parmesan; monkfish with prosciutto, capers, parsley and charlotte potatoes; and roast grey partridge with savoy cabbage and pancetta.
If you have an hour or more to spare, there are recipes for gnocchi with globe artichokes and parmesan; leg of lamb with roasted root vegetables; walnut, orange and honey tart; and soft chocolate cake with whisky.