It is almost certain that this book was written and published because Gennaro Contaldo is a mentor and close friend to the very celebrated chef Jamie Oliver. While the connection with Oliver and with Gennaro's own UK / Italian mentor, Antonio Carluccio adds interest to the book and while it is unlikely that I would have bought the book without these connections, I can with complete honesty say that this book stands on its own two feet as a good Italian cookbook and a superior evocation of life growing up in an Italian family where raising, growing, fishing, and hunting animals and plants for food was the whole family's primary avocation.
The stories of Gennaro's childhood, especially those directly related to hunting, fishing, and animal husbandry succeed in painting a picture of life along the Amalfi coast which succeeds much better than several culinary memoirs of Italy which I have recently read and reviewed. Mr. Contaldo is not a strong writer and I suspect he received a considerable amount of literary help in transcribing his oral memories of life in Southern Italy to paper. But, the stories are so vivid and so heart-felt that I can almost smell the blood and the sea and the mushrooms that are the subject of so many stories.
From the vantage point of an American who has read many stories of the romance northern Europeans feel for Italy, it is truly surprising to see a reverse of this scenario. Gennaro had a great desire to live and work in England as he was growing up in Italy. Once in the UK, he worked with several restaurants, including a stint in one of Antonio Carluccio's restaurants. When he was head chef at one London restaurant, he trained the young Jamie Oliver, who treats him as his London dad.
For American readers, please be prepared to deal with a few English terms for foods such as `Rocket' for Arugula, `Aubergines' for Eggplant, and `Courgettes' for Zucchini. All weights are in both metric (litres, grams, and Centigrade) and English (pints, ounces, and Fahrenheit). As I can visualize amounts more readily in metric than in English (I was a chemist), I am quite happy to have both. This book has value as a very good introduction to cooking in metric for those of you who are metrically challanged. The one place where measurements may be a challenge to most of us is with the flour units. All flour measurements for bread and pasta are given by weight (grams and pounds). So, you will need a kitchen scale to handle these.
The chapters organize recipes in exactly the way you would like and expect an Italian cookbook to lay things out. The English chapter titles are soup; pasta; risotto, polenta, gnocchi; fish and shellfish; meat, game, poultry; vegetables; tomatoes; mushrooms; snacks; bread; and desserts. The cuisine is not purely of Campania. There are lots of beans and pestos and rice and corn meal from northern Italy, but there certainly seem to be a lot more sparkle in the tomato and seafood recipes than in other recipes. Like all good traditional Italian chefs, Gennaro is fond of cooking with mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms such as porcini, although Seignior Contaldo is always careful to recommend a `garden variety' replacement for the wild fungi. The same is true of cheeses. Genarro will recommend the preferred Italian variety and specify a commonly available replacement if the traditional product cannot be found.
There is nothing new or profound in Gennaro's pasta making. He uses the same technique you will see done by Molto Mario Batali or Mr. Naked Chef Jamie Oliver. His bread making technique is also very similar to what I have seen in Jamie Oliver's books. It is distinctly non-artisinal, as it uses a relatively large (three to four times what I have seen elsewhere) amounts of yeast and fairly short rise times. I find it a perfect balance in the book to see a single pizza recipe for a genuine Neapolitan pizza and a single recipe for focaccia. Most other bread recipes are things like pane rustico with salami, cheese and eggs baked into a roll for taking along for a lunch while at work.
In general, there is nothing dramatically new here. All the soups and sauces and stuffed vegetables and pasta dishes have been seen before. But, Genarro succeeds in breathing life into all of these classics with a hard earned respect for ingredients which I find more genuine than what you see written by others.
The color photography of the food and the principals who created the book is competent and a little less than perfectly professional. It is almost as if the photographer made a point of keeping the rough edges on his technique to match the hearty vitality of the recipes. As the author and photographer took the trouble to return to Gennaro's hometown to do the food styling and photography, I believe that effort was well made. Gennaro's black and white snapshots of his family lend a charm consistent with the tone of the book. Congratulations for having the thoughtfulness to provide captions for these family snaps.
Highly recommended treatment of traditional Italian cuisine, with a genuine, enjoyable picture of the author's family and childhood. Most recipes are suitable for inexperienced cooks.