Master the art of real Italian food
Many people will know Gregg Wallace as the former greengrocer-turned-MasterChef-co-presenter alongside John Torode – and a man who really, really loves a pudding. Not many people think he can cook, though.
“They don’t realise!” says Wallace. “Unfortunately on MasterChef they don’t let me cook. I love to cook, but they don’t want me to, they want John to be the cook. You can’t work with food for 25 odd years and not be interested in cooking.”
He admits his cooking skills have evolved however, particularly since he met his fourth wife, Anna, who’s Italian.
“I do a lot more cooking than I ever did and it’s because of Anna and her family [they’re from the Lazio region near Rome]. Oh my god, I’ve learned so much from her!”
So much so that the couple have now written a cookbook together, Gregg’s Italian Family Cookbook.
But while the MasterChef and Eat Well For Less presenter has laid claim to some of the recipes, really it’s all born out of the food Anna, her mum Rina, dad Massimo and Roman nonna, have been making for years. It was merely a “happy accident” that Wallace married into a family where food is the beating heart.
Wallace met Anna, 21 years his junior, back in 2013 (she apparently made contact on Twitter to discuss a rhubarb and duck recipe), three years before they tied the knot. They welcomed their first child into the world, a boy, Sid, earlier this year.
Big, everyday family feasts, everyone gathered in the kitchen, was a central part of Anna’s upbringing, spending school holidays in her nonna’s house in Roma, sucking the heads of prawns as a toddler and learning how to cook.
“The whole family cooks, and I’m proud of this, they recognise my Anna as the best cook - she used to come home from school and cook dinner for her parents,” Wallace says. “She’s a far better cook than me.”
Their cookbook is a collection of easy-to-make Italian classics. Think pizza bianca, grilled sardines and salsa di pomodoro – recipes that don’t require many steps or ingredients.
A few you might never have tried, like gnocchi alla romana, made from semolina instead of potato, or ribollita (Tuscan bread soup), and some require a bit more time and effort, like Rina’s porchetta (Roman roast pork belly).
You may imagine that simple Italian dishes are delicious because the ingredients are better or fresher, but Wallace says that’s a common misconception. “In Italy, they don’t have fresh tomatoes in winter, they make passata, they use tins of tomatoes.
“What you need to do is start relying on tinned tomatoes, vegetables in oil, tinned tuna; all of these things are good and they’re cheap and they’re fine. If you’ve got these and flour – then you’ve got hundreds of dishes!”