Theo Randall on his new book, The Italian Pantry - 'It’s just simple home-cooking'

Virgin Radio

15 Aug 2022, 11:34

Theo Randall at Virgin Radio

Theo Randall at Virgin Radio

Chef Theo Randall joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about his fourth cookbook, The Italian Pantry.

The new book, which comes out on Thursday 1st September, sees Theo select ten staple Italian ingredients and create simple recipes to inspire people to cook with them. He told Tom Allen, who is in for Chris, that the idea of the book is, “ten ingredients in your pantry and the inspiration of those ten ingredients to cook from.” 

Acclaimed chef Theo specialises in Italian Cuisine. Of his new book, he explained: “There’s a section on breadcrumbs, there’s a section on ricotta, there’s a section on dried porcini mushrooms. And so that kind of elevates. That’s the star point of the dish, that elevates you into these creations that I have come up with, but the idea is you kind of cook from your pantry. And that’s how I cook at home.”

The other pantry ingredients are tomatoes, parmesan, lemons, leafy greens, polenta, honey and pine nuts, and, in the book, Theo calls on memories of childhood holidays to Italy, in which his parents would source the best quality family ingredients to fill their own pantry. He told Tom: “We used to have these lovely holidays where we’d drive through France to Italy. I was always the one who chose the restaurants, and my mother was such a good cook that I kind of always cooked with her. She used to make bread three times a week.

“And they were really into restaurants, so they encouraged me to get excited about restaurants, and I remember from a very early age, I kind of always wanted to be a chef. I was born to be a chef really, having parents that were so inspiring about food, and these holidays set the standard for what I do now.”

Speaking more about his mother’s influence, the chef said: “My mother was a brilliant cook. She had this pantry, which was the messiest pantry you’ve ever seen in your life, but it was full to the brim. She always put the chocolate on the top shelf so that I couldn’t get to it! 

“So, I’m just sort of one of those cooks that likes to use ingredients from my pantry, and that’s where the book comes from. And a lot of the recipes are dishes that I’ve cooked at home, and there’s lots of stories about cooking at home for my children and that kind of thing.”

If you’re daunted about making Italian food, then you needn’t be. Theo said: “The thing about the cookbook, and the food I cook, it is quite simple. It’s not over-complicated. Italian food, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients, so all the dishes in there, there’s not that many complicated recipes, it’s just simple home-cooking, which is what Italian food is really mostly about.”

Theo was head chef at The River Cafe in London for 15 years, and it was under his patronage that the restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1997. He told Tom a story about his early days there. “I was in the kitchen. There was Sam Clark from Moro, and there was Ed Baines, so we were all like young, budding chefs,” he said. “Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was a pastry chef at The River Cafe at the time. Hugh came in with a young lady, and Sam used to love to make a trick, and so we had the ravioli on the menu that night, and it was sort of a spinach and ricotta ravioli. Hugh sat down with this young lady, and he was trying to keep her entertained, so Sam bought this tin of Heinz ravioli and washed off all the tomato sauce and blanched it in water, covered it in parmesan and black pepper and some perfectly burnt butter with sage and served it!

“We stood behind the coffee machine watching Hugh devouring this ravioli, really enjoying it. And as he left, he said, ‘Why did you put meat in the ravioli? I thought it was supposed to be spinach and ricotta!’ He didn’t even notice.”

Whilst the Heinz ravioli recipe didn’t make it into Theo’s new book, he told Tom that there are plenty of fresh pasta recipes in there, and he even gave listeners one to try, describing it as, “an absolutely perfect recipe for pasta.” 

He said: “That’s 350 grams of tipo 00 flour, 25 grams of fine semolina flour, two whole eggs and four yolks, and that’s all you need. And you can make this all by hand, put it all together in a bowl, give the eggs a good whisk, mix them in, and then just kneed that together. Don’t add any salt or oil. Lots of recipes say add salt and oil. That’ll make the pasta go kind of black. It will oxidise. If it feels a bit dry, add a teaspoon of water. That will make the most perfect, fresh pasta.” 

When Tom asked if you can roll it by hand or if you need a pasta-making machine, the chef told him: “You can roll it out by hand. It’s a good workout! You need a good surface, like a wooden surface, and a rolling pin. If you’ve got a pasta machine, that’s even better.” 

The Italian Pantry is released Thursday 1st September. For more Information visit Theo will be appearing at his first ever CarFest South this year!

For more great interviews listen to  The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or  catch up on-demand here.