Marlo Meets returns for 2023 with a bang as we're joined by culinary legend, Gennaro Contaldo.

Gennaro has become a renowned face over the last two decades, writing numerous cookbooks and frequently appearing on our TV screens in major cooking programmes such as Two Greedy Italians and Saturday Kitchen. Also known for being Jamie Oliver's mentor and inspiration, they worked together on The Naked Chef and Jamie's Kitchen amongst many others. 

Gennaro has just released his latest cookbook, 'Gennaro's Cucina'. He takes us on a culinary journey of regional basic Italian staples and turns them into beautiful meals. With tips and ideas of what to do with leftovers, Gennaro helps home cooks squeeze maximum use from the ‘cucina povera’ ethos, turning humble ingredients into nourishing feasts without taste sacrifice. Encouraging an ethos of zero waste, Gennaro’s Cucina ensures that every part of the ingredient, and your budget, is put to good culinary use.

We speak to Gennaro about his new book, his childhood dream, ideal last meal and what he's got in store for the rest of 2023.

1. Tell us a bit about your new book, ‘Gennaro’s Cucina’?

It's based on the principle of the Italian cucina povera style of cooking – the food the poor of Italy used to cook was mainly dictated by the limited number of ingredients available to them, either what they grew or what little they could afford to buy. They learnt to value what they had, cook dishes lovingly to make them taste better and really use all their imagination to make dishes go as far as they could.   It’s what most of the traditional dishes of Italy we so love today, come from.  It is also my way of cooking and there is no better way than cooking what you have to hand and in season – it’s economical, it’s tastier and more sustainable. 

2. The book focusses on an ethos of ‘zero waste’ – how will it help people reduce food waste and also save money?

The recipes use very few basic ingredients and these ingredients can be used in other recipes too. As in true cucina povera style, nothing is every wasted.  Take bread for example - bread is sacred in Italy and a lot of the recipes in the book use stale bread for breadcrumbs as well as added to dishes in order to make them go further.  The whole part of a vegetable is used or tips given on what to do with it another time. 

3. How significant were these recipes in your childhood; did they help shape the chef you are today?

A lot of the recipes in the book reflect the way I used to eat as a child. We ate what we had available and that was always local and in season.  We never wasted food.  I am a firm believer of eating seasonally and have always done so whether cooking in a restaurant or at home.  And yes, I do believe that my upbringing and my surroundings definitely helped in making me the chef I am today. 

4. If you could only keep one recipe from the new book, what would it be and why?

That’s like asking a parent which is your favourite child!!  The one recipe which sticks to mind though and is a particular favourite – the Fave e Cicoria – dried split broad beans – which are cooked and mashed served with Cicora – a slightly bitter green from the chicory family.  It’s a typical cucina povera dish from Puglia – so simple to prepare with so few ingredients yet so deliciously comforting, nourishing and a complete meal. 

5. What was your childhood dream?

It was to come to London, own a pair of Levi jeans and meet The Beatles – well I succeeded in nearly all of them – London, jeans and I did have the pleasure to cook for Sir Paul McCartney at my restaurant on Charlotte Street many years ago!

6. Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party, and what restaurant would you hold it at?

Sofia Loren – I’ve heard she’s a keen cook – and it would have to be the restaurant of my childhood in Minori, on the Amalfi Coast, called Giardiniello.  It’s still family-run and has the best food. 

7. If you could own one painting in the world, what would it be?

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus – the original one!! 

8. What is your ideal last meal?

A simple dish of spaghetti with a sauce of fresh baby plum tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, a little red chilli and basil. It’s fast food at its best! 

9. What’s in store for the rest of 2023, do you have any exciting projects coming up?

I’m looking forward to lots of book events and cooking demos showcasing recipes from my latest book Cucina and spending some time in Italy to research my next book. 

Gennaro Contaldo’s new book ‘Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty money-saving meals from an Italian kitchen’ (Pavilion Books) is out now.

Main Photo: The Times
Birth of Venus: Wikipedia
All other photo credits: David Loftus

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