Italian food is all about the season

Italian Local - Tobie Puttock

By Louise Johnson
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Italian Local by author Tobie Puttock

Italian Local by author Tobie Puttock

Eat in season - it's the only way to eat, especially if you are a follower of the Tobie Puttock (and Jamie Oliver) school of food. Their world, and their cookbooks, is full of fresh, seasonal, organic produce and simple cooking.

It helps that when you make an effort to eat seasonally you get the produce in peak condition and perfectly matched to your dietary desires. "They are exactly the types of foods you feel like munching on to match the weather conditions at the time," says Puttock in one of many mini-essays on the joys of good produce that are scattered throughout his new book Italian Local

It's great to browse a cookbook and see images of places I recognise. Tobie is a fan of the Prahan Markets in Melbourne and splattered through are images of produce, and the prodcers, alongside  the recipes using their great goods. I particularly enjoyed Tobie and the market mushroom man holding fat field mushrooms to their ears and I'm certain my family will love the baked mushrooms, pancetta and creme fraiche recipe on the adjoining page. Tobie consistently argues for the purchase and use of the best possible produce. He shows us why organic is nearly always better for flavour and wellbeing, and introduces his heros - the growers whose respect for the cycles of nature is an inspiration.

There is a myriad of possibilities with Italian food and while many recipes stick to the scripts of great Italian classics, he's not afraid to experiment and encourage readers to experiment according the availability of particular ingredients. He encourages you to get to know your greengrocer, your butcher and your fishmonger and ask their advice on cooking their products. I imagine a trip to the markets for this friendly chef must be quite a lengthy mission.

A unique service, which would be well replicated in other cookbooks, is the advice at the end of each recipe from dietician Sue Shepherd, who offers tips on how to adapt Tobie's creations to suit the dietary needs of people with intolerances to diary, lactose or glutten, or who live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A nod to the needs of his readership in a world where recipes catering to dietary intolerances are scarce (or just plain boring).

Tobie reveals a passion for cured meats and offers a couple of recipes for making your own. He warns that if you are going to go to the effort to try these recipes to seek out the most sublime produce that you can. "In this era of factory farming, the days of little piggies going off to market are sadly long gone," he writes. Specialist producers, such as Wessex saddleback pig breeders at Fernleigh Farm in Bullarto, are providing heirloom products that haven't had the fat and flavour bred out of them. "For someone like me, who is keen to revive the artisanal Italanian methods of curing pork meat to make pancetta and prosciutto, this is absolutely vital, as the so called 'new-fashioned pork' would be dry and tasteless after such a long process of curing and aging, and hardly worth the time and effort required," he writes. 

Melbourne-born, Tobie started his career at Caffe e Cucina, followed by stints in restaurant kitchens in Italy and Switzerland. He met Jamie Oliver while working at the River Cafe in London, and was Jamie's right-hand man at the groundbreaking Fifteen London. In 2006 he came home to Melbourne to open Fifteen Melbourne and as executive head chef now oversees the training program for employing and mentoring disadvantaged kids to become industry professionals.

There is an element of Jamie Oliverness in Tobie Puttock - the cover image of Tobie squatting over a portable barbeque in a country garden screams of Jamie's last book and TV release,  Jamie at Home.  And so we should expect comparisons to and influences from Tobie's great mentor. Take heart, I suspect Tobie bring a unique Australian flavouring to the "pukka" Oliver institution as well.


Italian Local, is published by Penguin Australia, August 2008, RRP A$49.95 and Winepros Archive subscribers may buy Italian Local at a 12.5% discounted price through our book partners, Seekbooks (postage extra).


  • Melbourne (VIC)

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