Gennaro Contaldo on growing up on the Amalfi Coast: “The sea was my swimming pool”

Aubergines and chocolate? The Italian chef on the specialities of his home town and life without a fridge

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The chef is a partner in Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant empire, and with Antonio Carluccio he’s the star of the BBC2 series Two Greedy Italians — but the place Contaldo calls home is Minori, a small town on Italy’s Amalfi coast.

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What was life like on the Amalfi coast as a boy?

The sea was my swimming pool, the mountains were my back garden and the village was my playground. At 1pm everybody would go home from work and cook. There were different smells, there were arguments… and joyful talk.

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Gennaro Contaldo (left) with fellow greedy Italian Antonio Carluccio

What was the food like?

There were no fridges, so everything was fresh and in season. The cherries, when they came in, were incredible. There are lots of nuts, salads, vegetables, and broccoli di rape — an Italian variety. You preserved vegetables in summer to feast on in winter. If you preserve aubergines in summer, they taste different in winter — they are preserved in vinegar and oil, and the texture is amazing.

What about tomatoes?

We never bought tomato sauce. We collected jars and in September my mamma, sister, grandma, and nonno [grandfather] would sit around the table cutting the tomatoes in half and stacking them inside a jar with a bit of basil on top. We had this massive old oil barrel and my mother would put all the jars inside. My father would then guard them all night while they boiled, in case one exploded.

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Minori

What meal or food is unique to the Amalfi coast?

Here, each village cooks their own traditional dish. In Minori, they make aubergines with chocolate. It sounds odd but it’s great.

What else do you recommend from the area?

Chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, mushrooms, you name it. And we are so proud of the lemons… and the fish! Then there’s biscotti di Castellammare [a typical biscuit from the Campania region]. These fantastic biscuits are like breadsticks and not sugary. You can dip them in your cappuccino. But, in Italy, you have your cappuccino as a dessert — not after it.


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