A Taste of La Dolce Vita in NINA Capri – Cookbook Review
Nina Parker is a London based chef, food writer and the director of her own food company NINA Food which caters parties and pop-up events. She is also the author of the recently published NINA Capri: Recipes from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, a beautifully produced cookbook which showcases the delicious food of the Campania region of Italy.
Parker draws inspiration for her recipes from the Mediterranean having spent a large part of her childhood in the South of France. She favours simple, fuss-free plates of food but the recipes in NINA Capri are also heavily influenced by her time spent working in some of London’s top restaurants including L’Anima, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and as head chef at Gelupo.
The very best food/travel books have the ability to make the reader feel that they have actually visited the locations that are described and in Parker’s book, the food of the Amalfi coast is presented in a new and exciting way whilst remaining true to its rustic origins. Her food may seem simple but Parker’s recipes incorporate contemporary ‘twists’ and look wonderfully stylish. The dishes have a light, healthy feel and many of the recipes are also dairy and gluten free in keeping with modern tastes. This, along with Parker’s no-nonsense writing style, is what makes NINA Capri so appealing.
At roughly four miles long, Capri is a small island set in Italy’s Gulf of Naples. Lemon trees grow in abundance and unsurprisingly lemons find their way into many of the recipes in NINA Capri where a squeeze of the juice is used almost like a seasoning to perk up and enliven the flavour profile of the dishes.
The book, which was beautifully styled by her sister, artist and interior designer Juliana Parker, covers everything from breakfast through dinner and is structured like an Italian meal around chapters offering up recipes for Appetisers, Starters, Mains and Desserts along with some rather tempting beverages in the chapter on Drinks. In the main the recipes include easily sourced ingredients and are set out in a simple format without recourse to complicated cooking techniques.
I was particularly drawn to the ‘Breakfast’ chapter with its recipes for the classic Italian bread Pandoro (like panettone but without the dried fruit), the Chestnut Banana Bread, Jam and Hot Chocolate but also liked the shared plates and simple, flavoursome salads contained in the ‘Lunch’ chapter.
I decided to kick off my recipe road test with the Lemon and Almond Cake which was full of the flavour of lemon and immediately conjured up images of warmer climates. Versions of this cake are available everywhere in Capri but whilst many of them are made using only ground almonds, the recipe in NINA Capri also includes a little polenta which gives it a lovely yellow colour and some added texture which I liked a lot. The cake was incredibly easy to make and I felt that that it was one that even a novice baker could attempt with some confidence. After creaming the butter and sugar together, the eggs and dry ingredients were incorporated before adding the zest of three and a half lemons and a splash of orange blossom water. The resulting cake batter was then poured into the prepared cake tin and baked for just under an hour.
While the cake cooled, I made the lemon syrup using the juice of the lemons, a little icing sugar and the seeds of a vanilla pod. I loved the clever inclusion of the vanilla and felt that it added a further flavour dimension to the syrup. Once the cake had cooled I removed it from the tin and, as suggested in the recipe, dusted it with a little icing sugar before serving it with some crème fraîche on the side. One word… DELICIOUS!
Like so many others, my family love chicken and although my children can be a little fussy, I felt that they would love the Chicken Cacciatore in NINA Capri which was full of robust flavours. At first glance the ingredients list looks a little lengthy, but this belies how simple the dish was to make; really only requiring some basic chopping of vegetables. I love food that is simple to prepare and results in dishes like this that are full of robust flavours that everyone adores. This is a dish that is guaranteed to become a firm family favourite.
I love baking and I am constantly on the outlook for recipes that are a little lighter but ones that don’t compromise on flavour so I decided to make the Strawberry & Amaretto Cream Cakes. Like all the recipes that I tried, this was simple to prepare, yet it was full on flavour. I had expected the cakes to be slightly denser in texture and was delighted with how wonderfully light they were. This was mainly due to the fact the eggs were separated and the whites whisked and gently folded into the cake batter at the last moment.
The cakes were finished with a frosting made from mascarpone and enriched with an egg yolk, a little icing sugar and a generous glug of Amaretto – an Italian almond flavoured liqueur. Finally, each cake was topped with a halved strawberry which tasted fabulous against the almond flavour of the cakes and looked wonderfully glamorous.
Next up was a recipe for Buoncore Pinoli – little horseshoe shaped biscuits generously covered in pine nuts which are the edible seeds of certain varieties of pine that are often used in Italian cooking. The biscuits were made using egg whites, almonds and a little sugar. The recipe also used coconut flour, something which I hadn’t used before, to add a little stability in place of flour, which also meant that the resulting biscuits were suitable for those on a gluten free diet. Finally, the biscuits were rolled in pine nuts before being shaped and baked in the oven. I loved them.
I completed my recipe testing with the Summer Minestrone, a simple peasant-style soup packed full of wonderful summer vegetables including broad beans, peas and asparagus. Made to a tomato base with carrots and shallots, the recipe also included cannellini beans and chickpeas which resulted in quite a substantial soup that was a meal in itself. Although this recipe required the chopping and preparation of quite a lot of vegetables, it was incredibly easy to make and totally delicious.
I really loved this book; all the recipes that I tried were incredibly simple to make and resulted in wonderful tasting dishes that all my family greedily gobbled up. In many ways NINA Capri is so much more than a cookbook. Nina Parker brings you on a tour of Capri and the Amalfi coast and along the way she introduces you to the people and places that make the food so special. The book is lovingly researched and the recipes she presents celebrate all that is wonderful about eating the food of this region; food that is made using fresh, good quality ingredients that have been prepared simply.
NINA Capri is a must for anyone who loves Italian food but it is also an ideal book for anyone who loves eating good food and wants to get their hands on some reliable recipes that are easy to prepare. Most importantly, these are recipes that you will actually want to cook.
NINA Capri: Recipes from Italy’s Amalfi Coast is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is available on Amazon.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.