For Gennaro pasta is love to be shared
As Jamie Oliver’s right-hand man, we’ve come to know Gennaro Contaldo rather intimately: exuberant, passionate – and as Italian as pasta alla puttanesca.
Within minutes of meeting Gennaro, it becomes clear this isn’t an act he puts on for the camera.
The 70-year-old chef is exactly how he is on screen: warm, full of energy, and able to talk about food for hours.
He’s even set up a little bit of home in his London backyard – a rustic outdoor Italian kitchen, complete with a wood-burning oven and vines growing around it.
Unfortunately, East London grapes don’t make the best wine, so he settles for using them for vinegar instead.
Gennaro has lived in England for 50 years now, but his love of Italian cuisine is as strong as ever; his latest cooking book is dedicated entirely to the country’s national dish – pasta.
Gennaro can’t help but wax lyrical about pasta. For him, it’s so much more than just food – it represents home, family and love.
He said: “Fresh pasta for me means warmness and family, like a wood fired oven when it’s cold.”
Gennaro can’t even remember how he learned to make pasta, because it’s been around him his whole life.
With such fond memories of home-made pasta growing up, it felt natural that he would carry this love into his adult life – and he wants other people to share in this warmth.
At its core, Gennaro thinks pasta is a “symbol of love”, but it helps that “it also tastes good”, he added with his signature chuckle.
Much of his book is dedicated to dried pasta – something which Gennaro loves, as long as you make sure to buy a proper Italian product. But what he really wants to do is encourage people to make their own.
“When you make fresh pasta, it’s in celebration,” he said. “Even breaking one egg is a celebration.”
For some reason, whipping up fresh pasta has the reputation of being labour-intensive and tricky, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
This doesn’t mean people don’t mess it up, but Gennaro is clear about the most common mistakes to watch out for, such as overcooked pasta.
He said with a grimace: “Sometimes it’s so much overcooked that it’s like glue.
“Another mistake is putting too much sauce on it – 150g of sauce is enough for 100g of pasta.”
And there’s a reason why pasta should be cooked al dente, which in Italian means ‘to the tooth’.
Gennaro explained: “If it’s slightly under-cooked you chew longer, and when you chew longer it tastes better and has more flavour. It also helps with your digestion.”
His final word on all things pasta?
“Pasta doesn’t make you fat,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s the sauce you put on top.”