Avoid being a robot in the kitchen
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With pizza, pasta and cheese galore, it’s hard not to like Italian food. But few people love it quite as much as chef Theo Randall, writes Prudence Wade.
Randall – who runs Theo Randall at the InterContinental in London – admits to having a “lifelong obsession with Italian food”. It stemmed from childhood holidays there, and an artist mother who was “mad about Italian”, he says. “When we were kids, we grew up on her cooking from lots of Italian cookbooks.”
The London-born chef gets almost misty-eyed when talking about past meals in Italy – particularly the first time he tasted spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams).
He has a particular obsession with the Italian deli, confessing he’s “an obsessive shopper – I will go to a particular shop to buy one item, and I’ll probably buy three different jars of passata”, who often comes home laden with anchovies, olive oil and as much cured meat as he can carry.
“I would say I haven’t got an Italian bone in my body, but I have an Italian soul,” Randall muses – and he suggests we could all learn a lot about the country’s approach to food.
“It’s about keeping things really simple and not overeating. Less is more – sometimes a really delicious plate of pasta is all you need, or maybe it’s a baked dish or a risotto – if that’s done really, really well, it doesn’t have to have 25 ingredients in it.”
Randall champions the Italian way of “frugal cooking” too. “It’s making use of what you’ve got, rather than going out and buying things that are completely out of season, or making things too elaborate,” he explains.
“I think we’re quite wasteful in lots of ways: people go to the supermarket, they’ll do their shop and buy lots and lots of stuff. They’ll put it in the fridge, it’ll be in some sort of cellophane wrap, and about four or five days later, they realise they bought this asparagus and it’s gone off, so they just throw it away.”
When it comes to Italian food, the biggest mistake we could be making is usually with pasta. “I think this is where we go wrong: we cook so much pasta that you end up having this huge bowl of pasta and you sit in front of the TV, then you go back for a second portion, and then about 20 minutes later you’re lying on the sofa thinking, ‘Oh my God, my stomach is about to explode because I’ve eaten so much carbohydrates’,” Randall says.
“We do things automatically, we become like robots and cook things. I think we need to open our eyes and look at Italian produce, and see what’s out there and what’s available.”
Good quality ingredients can help you, which is why Randall has written a cookbook dedicated to the Italian deli. “I think food has a personality.”
The Italian Deli Cookbook by Theo Randall is published by Quadrille, priced £26.