I met Katie Caldesi this morning to talk about her Top Ten Cookery Books at Caffe Caldesi in Marylebone Lane. We’d exchanged a few emails and phone conversations setting this up and it was great to finally meet Katie and also to enjoy the welcoming ambience of Caffe Caldesi.
Katie and her husband, Giancarlo, opened the Caffe in 2002: here you can enjoy the best of Italy’s regional cooking and great wines in either the informal bar downstairs or the restaurant on the first floor. This little corner of Italy based in Marylebone is also home to La Cucina Caldesi, the only Italian cookery school in central London. Katie and Giancarlo teach many of the courses themselves but also have visiting celebrity chefs and wine experts, like Valentina Harris, Gennaro Contaldo and Sophie Grigson. Katie also teaches small groups from their home in Gerrard’s Cross and there is a ‘country’ restaurant, Caldesi in Campagna, in Bray, Berkshire. Katie’s book, The Italian Cookery Course, published in 2009 has been widely acclaimed and shortlisted for major cookery books prizes. Katie and Giancarlo have regularly appeared on TV programmes like BBC Masterchef, BBC Breakfast and Saturday Kitchen.
Over coffee, Katie and I discussed her book choices. She said she used the internet a lot now and tried not to read too many cookery books when working on her own recipes; the books she likes most are the ones that give you information as well as recipes.
1. The Meat Free Monday Cookbook, Foreword by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney (2011) – Katie contributed a polenta recipe to this recently published book. The McCartneys launched the Meat Free Monday campaign in 2009 to highlight the value of eating less meat and sharing recipes that show you how to eat great meat-free meals. Apart from Katie, there are contributions from other chefs like Skye Gyngell, Giorgio Locatelli and Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s a lovely book with nice photos, Katie said, and reflects what she’s trying to do in her own home with her two sons, Giorgio and Flavio (9 and 11). She particularly likes the breakfast ideas which have gone down well with her sons.
2. McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, Harold McGee (2004) – Katie told me how someone had said she’d enjoy this book and then walked into the caffe one day in their motorbike gear and handed it to her. Now it’s one of her favourites. In tune with her preference for books that give information as well as recipes, this is a comprehensive look at what happens when you cook: how every culinary reaction works in scientific terms, e.g. it has the perfect jam recipe, Katie said, but also explains why you need the pectin, what it does. This is a book for any cook who wants to understand why things happen and what you need to do to get the right results.
3. The Oxford Companion to Italian Food, Gillian Riley (2009) – This isn’t a cookbook, Katie explained, but a book about Italian food. It tells you where Spaghetti Vongole was first made; looks at the ingredients used in different parts of Italy and tells you how and why they were used. Katie said this was a very interesting book and the author, who she’s met at Guild of Food Writers’ meetings, is ‘a wonderful woman’.
4. The Complete Cookery Course, Delia Smith (first published 1968) – Katie said she couldn’t leave Delia out. Katie’s mother was her inspiration in the kitchen and she remembered watching all Delia’s TV series with her and them buying the books and trying the recipes out together. She still turns to this one for standard recipes, like scones, as all the recipes really work.
5. The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2004) – Katie likes the way Hugh has obviously put lots of time into really understanding meat to explain what’s happening when you cook it: why some cuts work for some dishes but not others; why certain methods of cooking work for some meats and cuts but not others.
6. Big Book of Cakes and Cookies, Hannah Miles (2009) – This is one Katie uses with her kids a lot: clear, simple recipes with good photos.
7. Bill’s Everyday Asian, Bill Granger (2011) – Katie told me she bought this after taking her 86-year-old father to a Ko Sushi in Westfield; how they’d sat at the bar on stools to enjoy the right experience of eating there and how her father loved an aubergine dish and so they kept ordering more. She found the recipe for it in this new book of Bill Granger’s.
8. The Live-Longer Diet: Secrets of the World’s Longest-Living People, Sally Beare (2003) – The author of this book visited and wrote about five of the world’s longevity hotspots in an attempt to understand how their diet affected their health; what were they doing – and eating or not eating! – that was helping them to live so long? One of the chapters focuses on Campodimele in Italy and Katie said she could totally relate to the way people there lived and their diet as it was the area of Italy Giancarlo comes from. She said a lot of the ideas in the book are ones she’s been thinking about for some time. These are areas of the world where people have for generations been living to 100 – and in good health. She showed me how the book lists Do’s and Don’ts in each chapter and thus it’s easy to see the main foods they eat/don’t eat and lifestyle choices they adopt. The foods are about traditional diets, including for instance plenty of olive oil, and not food fads. I told Katie I’d definitely be buying this one myself!
9. A Year in the Village of Eternity, Tracey Lawson (2011) – This is a book about the village of Campodimele (as in above book) which has been called ‘the village of eternal youth’. Average life expectancy there is 95 but almost more importantly, they live healthy lives and are largely free from the diseases that affect many Europeans, like cancer and heart disease. This is about food and lifestyle. Katie said she and Giancarlo have many friends and family living in this area where people still make preserves and cure their own meat, focus on seasonal cooking and adopt healthy lifestyles.
10. Fish, Sophie Grigson (1998) – A great source of information about different fish as well as good recipes. Katie likes the way different fish are listed and there are drawings of them so you can recognise them. I said it was also one of my favourite books and I liked the way the name of the fish is also given in different languages which is great for holidays.
Katie talked a bit about cooking at home where she cooks a real mix of things and had recently had a lesson on Malaysian cooking. Talking about her last choice of book I asked if she cooked fish a lot and she said she was keen on cooking sardines and mackerel at the moment and described recently showing six kids how to prepare sardines. Then they grilled them and served with a mix of lemon, red onion, parsley, salt and pepper and olive oil in bread. She described eating this in Turkey, freshly caught fish simply grilled and served in this way in Turkish flat bread and that it was one of the nicest things she’d ever eaten.
We also talked about the simplicity of Italian cooking and Katie said she was really into paring down recipes to the essence of the ingredients and had recently made simple dishes like beetroot with goat’s cheese and watercress; liked eating pecorino cheese with honey. She described taking her sons to the nearby La Fromagerie to taste different cheeses, eating them with different apples and finding some of the cheeses and apples didn’t mix while another kind of apple would go well with the same cheese. Try Montgomery cheese with a cox’s apple.
I really enjoyed talking with Katie about her choice of books and am already working out when I can go back to Caffe Caldesi to try some of their wonderful Italian food. Take a look at their website (www.caldesi.com): there’s a wealth of good information there (perhaps reflecting Katie’s preference for books with lots of information) and you can sign on for their excellent e-newsletter and find out about their cookery courses.