Theo Randall's third cookbook is a paean to instinctive cooking inspired by store cupboard ingredients. Divided into 17 ingredient-themed chapters, the book covers much of what you'd expect to find on an Italian deli's shelves, from tinned and smoked fish to olives and cheese, salumi and Italian sausages to olive oil and vinegars, and much else besides.
Dishes such as wild rocket and cannellini bean soup with pesto, roasted lamb rump with polenta and creamy olive and anchovy sauce, and vegan dark chocolate and coffee tart with coconut ice-cream and croccante demonstrate Randall's knack for writing attention-grabbing and delicious-sounding recipes.
You'll have to buy Randall's first book Pasta if you want his excellent pasta dough recipe but, in keeping with the book's theme, he has included seven dishes made with dried pasta including orecchiette with anchovies and cima di rapa and spaghettini with garlic, chilli and parsley, a staff-food favourite from his time as head chef of the River Café.
For Randall, the devil is in the detail. He recommends tracking down dried borlotti beans from the protected area of Lamon in Veneto which, he says, combined with roasted Italian sausages and ‘nduja, are ‘heavenly'; specifies pagnotta, a Puglian semolina bread for a bruschetta of courgette, olive and ricotta salata, and suggests spaghetti from Gragnano in southern Italy (recognised as the home of dried pasta) for his take on spaghetti alle vongole.
There are other instantly recognisable classic Italian dishes in the book, but each has Randall's imprimatur. Fritto misto is finished with mint and chilli, potatoes are roasted with balsamic, pancetta and red onion, and tuna carpaccio is accompanied by fennel and lemon. Even Randall's version of tiramisù has an unusual genesis, inspired by a recipe from a pizzeria in Antigua.
Fundamentally, Randall is not aiming for novelty or difference for difference sake, but to make "simple food with exceptional ingredients". The Italian Deli Cookbook is further evidence that he is the master of that particular craft.
The Italian Deli Cookbook by Theo Randall (Hardie Grant/Quadrille Publishing, £26)
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