Gennaro's Pasta Perfecto cookbook review: 11 books later, has he still got it?

Book cover of Gennaro Contaldo's Pasta Perfecto
Contaldo's new cookbook provides vibrant flavours and simple techniques for every skill set Credit: David Loftus

Ask someone to describe who Gennaro Contaldo is and they’ll probably say: “He taught Jamie Oliver to cook Italian.” The veteran chef, restaurateur and cookbook author, however, deserves greater recognition than this.

One half of the Two Greedy Italians (alongside the late great Antonio Carluccio), Contaldo was once the owner of the award-winning Passione in London. He has since become a household figure on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen and has written a grand total of 11 cookbooks focusing on simple, classic Italian favourites. His latest is out now.

The approach

Gennaro’s Pasta Perfecto! (Pavilion, £18.99) needs little explanation as to the subject matter. It celebrates pasta, in all shapes and forms. Among some comically staged photographs of Contaldo rolling pasta, cooking pasta and serving pasta expressing various looks of exultation, the book shares recipes for dried, fresh (using store-bought and freshly made shapes), and baked pasta dishes.

These are flanked by simple sauces, basic dough methods and a page on how to cook pasta perfectly – nothing we haven’t heard before; salt your pasta water, cook al dente, reserve a little water for adding to your sauce. I’m sceptical, however, about whether, after 10 cookbooks, Contaldo can really justify another solely about something he has surely written extensively about in the past.

The recipes

Though I was tempted by the pasta frittata and pasta croquettes, I decided that the most sensible approach would be to test a dish from each main section – dried, fresh and baked.

Spirali with citrus pesto

Credit: David Loftus

Lured by the refreshing idea of oranges in a pesto (Sicilian-inspired, he says), I tried this on a weeknight after work, and it’s certainly going to become a regular. Ready in 10 minutes, the pistachio, orange, basil and caper pesto provided a glorious burst of citrus and peppery basil. Next time I’ll add a little chilli, too.

Tagliatelle with lamb shank ragu

Credit: David Loftus

This slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth lamb ragu was the perfect antidote to a miserable Sunday evening. Though it took longer than stated for the lamb to reach fall-off-the-bone levels – a little over three hours rather than two-and-a-half – and it needed some sweetness added to offset the tartness of the tomatoes, the ragu was rich, unctuous and perfect mixed through fresh tagliatelle.

Baked pasta shells filled with mushrooms and ham

Credit: David Loftus

The preparation took longer than expected (“very finely” chopping 750g of mushrooms is no mean feat, likewise when it comes to stuffing the shells), but it was more than worth the effort. The baked shells were crunchy on top, oozing with creamy, garlicky mushroom and ham béchamel beneath. Serve with salad for a semblance of health and you have a stellar weekend feast.

The verdict

Despite my reservations, Contaldo’s book was accessible, easy to follow, and full of some fantastic seasonal recipes. From fresh ravioli to throw-together pestos, salads and even ideas for leftovers, there’s something to suit every mood, occasion and skill set. The number of pages I have dog-eared speaks for how often this book will play a part in my future pasta-filled (and filled pasta) culinary efforts. Touché, Contaldo.