Our Verdict: Jamie Cooks Italy

Maureen: I’m just going to say this: I think this is a return to form for Jamie. We had a lot of good dinners this month.

Kirstin: Controversial!

Maureen: I know. Though saying that, I don’t know if the dinners were good because the cookbook was good, or if it’s because we love Italian food, which is always a winner. What did you think?

Kirstin: I thought the recipes were good, but I’m not sure they were that good. But they were good. I just didn’t understand all of the old women scattered throughout the book. What was that about?

Maureen: I think he was trying to show that the old ways are the best way. Or something.

Kirstin: This cookbook was definitely better than the last couple of books.

Maureen: I read in the introduction that it took him 18 months to write. I think it shows. It certainly doesn’t seem as slapdash as some of his more recent efforts.

Kirstin: I’d say it’s mid-period Jamie– not as good as he was at the start, but not as bad as recent years, either.

Maureen: He’s never going to be as good as his first four books.

Kirstin: Oh, never. But that’s not have much to do with him, but things have changed. Personalities have changed. Food has changed. Food is everywhere. There’s a lot more recipes available in newspapers, magazines and online.

Maureen: I think it also has to do with the fact that we have very much moved on. We’re much better cooks than when Jamie released his first book, but maybe some of our skills are Jamie’s doing? There were some good recipes in this cookbook and I would recommend it to people. It’s been a very, very long time since I last recommended a Jamie book.

Kirstin: I would give it to people, and that’s always a good sign.

Maureen: So a decent month from Jamie then.

Kirstin: For Sure.

“Jamie Cooks Italy”
Overall Grade (A- F):  B+ (Maureen) B (Kirstin)
Best recipes: Maureen: Pasta dishes– they were really good. Kirstin: Bastardo Chicken
Grade for Photography (A-F): B
Any disasters? Kirstin: No. Maureen: No!
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Bookshelf! This is the first time in a long while we haven’t sent a Jamie book to the charity shop.                                                                        Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: Yes.

Our Verdict: Jamie Cooks Italy

“Stuffed Peppers” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Stuffed peppers were a staple in our 1970s/80s American household. You’d take bell pepper, stuff them with rice, beef mince, tomatoes and cheese. I loved, and still love, them. My husband Tim does not feel the same fondness for them.

So when I told him I was making stuffed peppers for dinner, he was less than enthusiastic. But once he tasted them, he changed his mind. The reason? These are Stuffed Peppers Extraordinaire, which are stuffed not with the usual, but with pork mince, ‘nduja, fennel seeds and breadcrumbs, then topped with ricotta cheese.

Like I said, Stuffed Peppers Extraordinaire.

Once again, Jamie is on to a winner in this book. These were absolutely delicious, and I could see making these often.

However, two things to note: First, Jamie advised roasting the red peppers for 30 minutes and I feared they would absolutely collapse after that much time (and also, I was short on time), so I roasted the peppers for 15 minutes to get them cooked, but not so cooked that they wouldn’t hold the filling. As you then roast the peppers once stuffed for another 30 minutes, I figured it would be fine, and it was. Second, he calls for “crumbly ricotta cheese”. I was unsure what he meant by that, so after conferring with my trusty cheesemonger, I drained regular ricotta over a cheesecloth in the frig for a few hours before cooking, so it would be crumbly. That seemed to work.

Also, here’s a top tip: after the peppers were done roasting, there was a beautiful oil made up of the pork and ‘nduja in the pan. I took the rocket we were going to have with the peppers and tossed it in it for a delicious dressing. Yum.

All in all, another good dinner.

“Stuffed Peppers” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Two Pasta Dinners from “Jamie Cooks Italy”



To the surprise of no one, this cookbook, which has Italy in the title, is very strong on its pasta dishes. I mean, I would expect nothing less, though history has shown us here at Cookbook a Month that not all cookbooks deliver what they promise. In this case, at least, Jamie in Italy knows how to cook pasta.

We loved both these dinners. Roll on Jamie.

Sausage Linguine: As previously discussed, anything in this house that has the addition of pork products– be it bacon, sausage or otherwise– is a winner. For this recipe, you fry up a sausage, then add tenderstem broccoli, garlic, anchovies, chilli flakes and small glass of white wine. Toss linguine into the pan once cooked and then sprinkle cheese over the top (of course). Perfection.

Bucatini Amatriciana: This is also delicious. Essentially, you fry pancetta, add a sliced red onion, smash up a can of plum tomatoes, stir it into spaghetti and then eat. As Andrew is now in charge of cooking for himself at university, I’m going to send this recipe to him. It’s delicious, it’s quick, it’s easy: the holy grail of student/new cooks everywhere. Dinner FTW.

The fact that I could simplify both of these recipes into one sentence each is a real plus in my book. Don’t get me wrong– multi-page recipes have a time and a place, too, but it’s usually not on a weeknight when I’m trying to get dinner ready fast. Both will be winging their way into Andrew’s inbox. We’ll see if he actually makes them.

In the meantime, we can add these to the FTW weeknight dinner rotations.

Two Pasta Dinners from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

“Amalfi Lemon Tart” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

The new season of the Great British Bake Off is back on our screens here in the U.K. (past seasons available on Netflix everywhere else), so that means it’s peak baking season at the shops. Suddenly, there are elaborate displays in the supermarkets with baking ingredients, baking equipment and baking tips. This country currently is all in on a home baked good.

Of course, at this house, it’s always baking season since it’s something I love to do. I always have a tin of cookies available, and if time permits, I nearly always make some sort of cake or pie on the weekend. This recipe, then, appealed for obvious reasons– mainly that it was Sunday and I was looking for something to make for dessert.

Tart cases are particularly fiddly and I don’t always get them right. There’s a reason why tarts feature on Bake Off, and I suspect it’s because other people struggle with them too. However, Jamie foolproofs the recipe by instructing you to chill the dough not once but twice– first in the refrigerator and then in the freezer. I’m thrilled to report my pastry didn’t shrink when I baked it, as has been known to happen in the past.

The tart case on this particular recipe, though, is a bit odd, because you use olive oil in it. That was a first for me. Also, I made the mistake of using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is extra peppery, and consequently less than ideal for a dessert. Once baked the pepper taste was less overwhelming, but still, next time I’ll just use regular olive oil. The filling, however, was delicious– very much like the cheesecake described in Jamie’s introduction.

And if you’re wondering who we’re backing here in the current Bake Off season, we proudly declare that we are TEAM RAHUL.

If you’d like to make this tart yourself, it’s currently on Jamie Oliver’s website, click through this sentence to see it yourself.

“Amalfi Lemon Tart” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

“Golden Breaded Tuna with Aeolian Spaghetti” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Despite our love for all things breaded and fried, it would have never occurred to me in a million years to give tuna the treatment. But, by god, what a winner.

I suppose it makes sense. ANYTHING deep fried is bound to be better, though I admit that I approached this with a fair amount of trepidation. Given how much tuna steaks cost, the last thing I’d like to do is overcook them and ruin them by frying them. The key is to flash fry them, like Jamie says in the instructions. I found by just making the breaded crust golden, they were perfectly done– not too overdone, not too underdone. A Goldilocks tuna, if you will.

The Aeolian spaghetti that goes with it was also delicious. (The eagle-eyed among you will note that I used linguine instead of spaghetti. I don’t think it made much difference.) Nicholas (15) found it overly spicy– I suppose the red chilli would do that– but the adults loved it. The next day, I took some of the leftovers and added them to chicken stock for a lunchtime soup, which was all kinds of yum and highly recommended.

All in all, another good dinner with Jamie. Will this cookbook– dare I say it– be his best in recent memory? Time will tell, but we’re off to a strong start.

“Golden Breaded Tuna with Aeolian Spaghetti” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

“Semolina Teardrop Dumplings” and “Nonna Merdedes’ Fonduta” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

This dinner was very much a team effort. It had to be, because when Tim told me what he wanted to make, I said, with all the loving support you can imagine, “I don’t think that’s going to work.”

He had decided upon making the dumplings, which looked intriguing but seemed to require either special Italian equipment or a colander with 1/2 centimetre holes, neither of which we had. But what we do have (in abundance) is piping bags, so Tim decided he’d use one of them, and after considering all the available tips I had, he went with a star one. This was why I was skeptical.

But guess what? I was wrong! It worked! I’m not sure if Jamie would approve, but using the star tip to make small pasta tubes worked fine. The pasta was undoubtedly bigger, but it still tasted good. The cheesy fontina sauce that went with it was also a hit, and a nice reminder of fondue season, which will soon be upon us. (HUZZAH)

Would we make it again? Maybe on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But it was definitely delicious.

“Semolina Teardrop Dumplings” and “Nonna Merdedes’ Fonduta” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

When we saw the name of this dish– Carnival Lasagna– it seemed the perfect thing to make as we head into the final weeks/days/hours of Andrew being at home before he heads off to the great adventure that is university life. Who doesn’t love a carnival? And indeed, this dish seems perfect for a big family gathering or a party. More pertinently, a carnival might also be just what we need as we all get a bit wistful about his departure.

We set aside a Sunday afternoon to get this done. You could just tell by looking at the three pages of photographs and one full page of instructions this was going to be a PROJECT. We were fine with that, because after all, isn’t that what Sunday afternoons are for?

It was a team effort. You have to make pasta dough for the lattice on the top, which Tim made. You also have to make meatballs and tomato sauce to layer in, which I made. We both kept an eye on the kilo of spaghetti we had to cook to put inside. Assembly was also largely a team effort.

You can imagine the relief we felt when it was finally time to eat. We figured it would be good, and we also figured that everyone would love it, given the ingredients.

The verdict? “This is just basically just spaghetti and meatballs, in pie form,” Andrew said after one bite. That’s really not the reaction we were hoping for after hours of cooking. But he was right. Even so, it was delicious, and it was even better as leftovers for lunch the next day.

This truly would be the perfect meal for a huge gathering of people. You could make it ahead of time, and put it in the oven when the guests arrive. Then once it’s time to eat, all you have to do is bake it and slice it. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, but trust me, it’s a dramatic dish.

But when I make it again, I’ll modify some of the more fiddly bits. The meatballs, which are fried and then poached in the tomato sauce, were really good, but it took an age to fish them out of the tomato sauce. So the next time, I’ll just roast the meatballs like I always do, and then toss them in a bit of tomato sauce before layering them in– that will be much easier. Although the pie would be fine without the lattice on the top, it does add something extra to the dish, so I guess I would do that again. The next time I’d also add more prosciutto and cheese to the dish, but that’s just down to personal preference.

All in all, it was an excellent way to kick off a month of Italian eating with Jamie Oliver.

“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

Maureen: It’s much better than his most recent books, but that’s not saying much.

Kirstin: Well, maybe it was. The Family Superfood book was really bad*. [Editor’s Note: this is actually not the word that Kirstin used, but we try to be a family-friendly blog.]

Maureen: You can’t quite say it’s a return to form, but it’s pretty good.

Kirstin: Do you think we set the bar higher for Jamie because we have so lovely memories of his book?

Maureen: [Ponders.] Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think the problem with Jamie, and we’ve said this for the past few years, is that he feels compelled to release a new cookbook every year. I just wish he– and his team– would take a breather and maybe take some time with the next book. I’m pretty sure the annual publishing calendar is hurting the books more than the fact that we love his first books so much. Though that’s also true.

Kirstin: Well, he’s a whole industry now, so he has to keep it going.

Maureen: While it’s not a brilliant book, I do think it would be a good cookbook for students or people learning to cook. It’s like a gateway drug to better recipes and food. It gets you started and maybe you could figure out ways to make them better.

Kirstin: Exactly. I made a lot of the recipes. They are easy and I liked this format more than 15 Minutes and 30 Minutes cookbooks. They were done quickly, but you didn’t have a deadline to get them done.

Maureen: You didn’t feel the pressure to get it done in a certain amount of time, which was good. Saying that, we did find that a lot of the recipes over promised and under delivered.

Kirstin: But if you did make them, you could– shock horror– add more than five ingredients to make them better.

Maureen: Yes. And maybe leave out red wine vinegar from time to time.

Kirstin: Maybe that’s another way you could use the book, to teach yourself how to make stuff better.

Maureen:It felt like he was a bit hamstrung at times with the five ingredient limit.

Kirstin: Absolutely.

Maureen: Apparently, this book is selling much better than his last few, but then again, both the superfood books were shockingly bad.

Kirstin: This book is more for food explorers and newbies than food lovers and good cooks.

Maureen: At least it was an improvement. It still wasn’t brilliant, but it was better.

“5 Ingredients”
Overall Grade (A- F): B- (Kirstin) C+ (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Baked fish and I enjoyed my first tarte tatin. Maureen: There’s nothing that jumps out at me.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  B- (It was a bit boring.)
Any disasters? Kirstin: Yes! The sea bass was awful. Maureen: The pork was gross and the timings were all wrong.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin & Maureen: We’re both saving it to give to our children when they leave for university in a year, but otherwise, will probably not use the book again.                                                                                                                                 Would You Give This Book to a Friend?: No. There are loads of better books out there.

Our Verdict: 5 Ingredients

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

We had high hopes for this. After all, we’re huge fans of prawns in this house and this looked like a new way to serve them up with pasta.

But in what is fast becoming a theme to this book, this was a bit bland. It was bland even with me including far more red pesto than Jamie had recommended. Hard to believe that’s how it played out, but it’s true. I’m not sure what more it needed, or maybe the whole recipe was just a bit boring. I don’t know.

Maybe the problem was that it pales in comparison to our very favourite pasta with prawns, shrimp scampi. This is what the Americans call this dish, by the way. British scampi is much different– that’s deep-fried prawns. That’s also delicious, but it’s also very different.  American shrimp scampi is made by sauteeing garlic in butter and olive oil, adding white wine to make the sauce, tossing in some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, adding the shrimps (or prawns, depending on whether you speak British or American), then finishing it off with parsley and lemon juice before putting over the pasta. See? Easy. Not to mention fast.

It’s not that this Jamie Oliver version was bad, mind you. It just wasn’t that good. But if you can stretch to 7 ingredients instead of five, I highly recommend making this shrimp scampi (from the always wonderful Melissa Clark) instead.

Jamie hasn’t posted this recipe online yet, so I can’t provide a link. You’re not missing much. 

“Rose Pesto Prawn Pasta” from “5 Ingredients”

“Plum Tarte Tatin” from “5 Ingredients”

Kirstin: I have never been brave enough to make a tarte tatin. In fact, thinking about it I’ve never eaten one before either so I made this recipe in the dark. First things first; there was no red wine vinegar in this recipe, which is a huge step forward. Also the plums and greengages are just gorgeous at the moment and were proper ripe. I wonder if they might actually have been too ripe as they produced a lot of liquid which made turning over the tarte a little more interesting than I had expected (for the record, I was very smug as I used my frittata flipper to help with that part of the tarte). No matter though because imagine the plum sauce combined with the salted caramel ice cream that I served this with and you can see what a winner it was. I have no idea whether I cooked the pastry for long enough or whether it tasted anything like the real thing but I am intrigued enough by the whole concept to do some research and try a tarte tatin again.

“Plum Tarte Tatin” from “5 Ingredients”