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Book review – La Famiglia

08 December 2011 by
Book review – La Famiglia

La Famiglia By Alvaro Maccioni
Palazzo, £25
ISBN 978-0-9564942-3-8

Family and food have always been entwined in Alvaro Maccioni's life, both working and personal. Growing up in his native Tuscany, conversations among extended family and friends over a meal would revolve around the gathering of ingredients, the preparation of the food and the detail of the dishes themselves. On special occasions more than 42 members of his family would sit together to eat food cooked by all the mothers and grandmothers.

Coming to London nearly 50 years ago, Maccioni swiftly established a family of his own. He and his wife Letizia had three children by the time they opened the appropriately named La Famiglia in 1975 in Chelsea, which today remains very much a family affair, with daughter Marietta now involved in the business.

Staff at La Famiglia are like an extended family, with Quinto the chef having been with Maccioni for almost 40 years and the restaurant manager Gigi remaining in position from the day the restaurant opened until his retirement.

This book is very much a celebration of the family - related by both blood and circumstance - which is central to Maccioni's life. Divided into four chapters reflecting the seasons, the bulk of the recipes stem from dishes his relatives cooked back in Tuscany, many of which have appeared on the menu at La Famiglia over the years.

Springtime recipes include a ricotta and basil mousse, inspired by his grandmother who raised sheep and always had a steady supply of the fresh cheese; linguine with clams cooked by Maccioni's mother and one of the restaurant's best sellers, octopus and squid salad.

From the summer section, there are aubergine rolls with mint, which was an aunt's attempt to get the young Maccioni to eat vegetables; veal medallions in sweet and sour sauce, a treat in Tuscany for Sundays; and peach tart made from the season's ripest fruits.

The autumn chapter includes a fabulous olive sauce, which Maccioni spread on bread as a child, but also works well with pasta or as an accompaniment to lamb; wild boar burger studded with black truffle and marinated in white wine, and the Tuscan favourite of prune tart.

Many of the dishes for winter reflect the Maccioni family's need to cut down on wastage and make the most of ingredients during the scarce colder months. So, alongside the likes of pheasant with orange sauce, which was frequently served at Christmas, there are recipes for Italian-style onion soup and baked mushroom and vegetable lasagne.

Full of integrity and love for the family Maccioni came from, as well as the family he has created here in the UK, La Famiglia is a book that is both enjoyable to read and to cook from.
Janet Harmer

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