Michela, Emanuela and Romina Chiappa grew up in Wales in the heart of a close-knit Italian community where food was always at the centre of family and social gatherings. Whether searching for porcini in the hills near their parents’ home, or making pasta for Christmas Eve with the whole family, to sharing food at the annual Welsh-Italian summer picnic, the three sisters have been immersed in the Italian way of cooking all their lives.
Simply Italian by the Chiappa Sisters Review
Tantalisingly Tasty Recipes from Ladies who definitely like to Lunch!
I love my cookbooks. And with a collection nearing one hundred, I am fast needing more kitchen shelf space to house them all. So my recent acquisition of Simply Italian, a Mother’s Day gift from the kids, brought a smile to my face for two reasons 1) just flicking through the pages had me grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of all the new creations I would just have to try and 2) new shelf day will be approaching even quicker, yippee!
Compiled and written by the beautiful Chiappa sisters; Michela, Emanuela and Romina, Simply Italian is not ‘just another Italian recipe book’. Far from it. This is a characterful, soulful read interwoven with a fascinating backstory of the girls’ Northern Italian and Welsh roots, making for some truly unique dishes.
The underlying message of the book is undoubtedly: Italians Live to Eat; Not Eat to Live. And indeed, there’s a fab black and white shot of the sisters doing just that beneath those very words – somewhere rustic and Italian looking. With a kaleidoscope of stunning photography, this is very much a cookbook to curl up with for mealtime inspiration, as well as a practical kitchen manual.
So, what have I made so far?
Well, quite a lot since March actually. I really couldn’t wait to jump in and get started! For an everyday quick supper fix, I can heartily recommend Nonna’s Lentil Pasta Stew (Minestra di Lenticchie e Pasta). Simplicity at its best and healthy, yet comforting, to boot. In fact, my husband is already asking when it’s back on the menu. And believe me, such a statement coming from the mouth of a man who is a quarter Slovak is a very rare thing when it comes to my style of cooking…
Next (naturally) I had to dive into the desserts. The Ultimate Jam Tart (Crostata) was calling my name every night in my dreams. Just you wait until you see the picture, then you will get it! Because this is no run-of-the-mill Jam Tart, no siree. The dough is actually made with five egg yolks, lemon zest and vanilla extract. There are no words! Suffice it to say, you will be drawn trance-like to the kitchen and rolling out dough – just in case you have surprise visitors – again. And again. And again. The contrast of sweet sticky jam against the slightly tart, yet rich, eggy, semi-sweet vanilla pastry is just unforgettable.
So much so that I wondered if any pudding could ever live up to it!
I am pleased to say the Hot Strawberries with Ice Cream and Amaretti (Fragole Saltate in Padella) came very, very close. I was attracted like a magnet to this sweet treat. Hot strawberries were a completely new concept to me, and one I wasn’t super convinced could work. Oh, but it so does! No more cold, sad strawberries and cream sat in front of Wimbledon on the box as the rain hammers down outside for me. This exciting Italian dish will put the spring back into anybody’s step. In fact, I highly recommend Andy Murray ditches his banana and Robinson’s squash at half-time and puts a little fire back in his belly with a bowlful of this…
Salmon, Ricotta and Leek Pancakes (Panzerotti Gallesi) were the next recipe that had my mouth watering. I’m not going to pretend this was the easiest dish to construct (then again we are – certo – talking about making the batter from scratch… including not getting it stuck to the pan or the ceiling!). However, the effort was well worth it and the result was a delicious family meal that even had the children licking their platters clean. I would say this is the perfect go-to for a casual dinner party too. It’s unbelievably tasty, surprisingly light (leaving room for that all important pud) yet impressive enough for impromptu guests.
And just to be fair to the carnivores among us, I simply had to road test something meaty. Which gave me the perfect excuse to whip up the Gorgonzola, Pear and Pancetta Sauce (Sugo di Gorgonzola con Pera e Pancetta). Oh my! Are you looking for something dreamy and creamy and refined to transport your pasta from the everyday to the sumptuous? Then look no further. This particular sauce incorporates a number of ingredients giving it a beautifully complex taste: sweet, salty and peppery, all bizarrely at the same time. It really works and can be conjured up in a jiffy.
Whilst we are introduced to an array of yummy sounding new ideas, the sisters definitely don’t turn their backs on tradition. And the usual suspect Lasagna, Ragu and Tiramisu can be found nestled among the very uplifting pages of this read, creating the perfect balance of classic (admittedly with a Chiappi twist) and new.
There is a huge emphasis throughout Simply Italian on making your own pasta from scratch, which I love (in theory… admittedly, finding the time in practice – at least for me – is a slightly different matter). But not just the bog standard varieties. We’re talking rainbow-hued pasta of every shape. And some really exciting ravioli too -all backed up with fantastically helpful tips.
It’s like the girls have pre-empted everything; your every concern and need, so much so that they also kindly took it upon themselves to write up sections on store-cupboard essentials, great Italian ingredients, freezer tips and even suggested menus. Each individual recipe also comes with a really handy tip of its own. Indeed, you totally feel like this book is giving you amazing value for money. And you come away from it feeling as if you’ve spent a day on an Italian cookery course. It really is that good.
Which is why I predict this is just the beginning of a very exciting cookery career for The Three Chiappis – and one I am excited to follow!
Simply Italian is published by Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House.