Meeting Valentina Harris

Valentina HarrisCertainly to our U.K. readers, where she is such a well-respected authority on Italian food and food culture, Valentina Harris needs no introduction. For anyone who hasn't met her, she has been writing award-winning cookbooks since 1984, when she published Perfect Pasta. She's now written  over 30 books on Italian food,and still finds time to host  culinary adventures across Europe.

Five of her favorite regional cookbooks have now been gathered and reissued as a set, Regional Cooking of Italy. Included in the collection are  The Food and Cooking of TuscanyThe Food and Cooking of Sicily and Southern ItalyThe Food and Cooking of Venice and the North-East of Italy, The Food and Cooking of Rome and Naples, and The Food and Cooking of Milan and Bologna. And we are particularly delighted to be able to offer five free sets to our members - just add a comment on this cookbook giveaway blog.  Do not post here to enter as your entry will not be counted.

We recently asked Valentina to talk about her passion for Italian food:

It's no secret that I love my native country with an enormous passion, and although I no longer live in Italy full time, and have not done so  since my early twenties, I find my way back to everything that it means  to me through the multi faceted food and wine of its many and varied  regions.

I was brought up in a huge house in Tuscany, just a few steps from the  beach, with an olive grove, a vineyard, chickens and rabbits for the  table and big, fat, happy pig hidden behind the shed containing the  (entirely illegal) grappa still, for sausages, salame, prosciutto and  blood sausage - biroldo in the local dialect. There was a large well  tended vegetable garden that yielded a seemingly endless bounty of  fragrant, fresh vegetables and herbs for use in the cooking, until  winter came, and then the only surviving vegetable, seemingly for months  on end, was the unforgiving, coarse and peppery cavolo nero, which I  still associate with the unyielding damp of a Tuscan January.

That kitchen was central to everything in our house, it was always a busy, buzzing place, filled with delicious smells and wonderful colours  and an alluring sense of great delight. I was never turned away, I only  needed to peep around the door and I would be welcomed in and given a  job to do: a pile of vibrant green beans to top and tail or some earth  coated carrots to scrub clean.

I grew up surrounded by a great sense of the importance of food and of sitting down to eat at a beautifully laid table, where the food and the  flow of enjoyment and conversation were vital to everything else that  went on in and around our home.

As a child, I can remember adults discussing the quality of the new season polenta flour, a loaf of bread or the first pressing of our own  olive oil with the same intensity usually devoted subjects such as  politics, love or a favourite football team. It is not surprising,  looking back on that idyllic foodie childhood, that by the time I was  eight years old I had converted the family sandpit into my first, single(very wobbly ) table restaurant; where I served up sand pies, leaf  salads and stews made out of gravel with gravity and pride.

Once I qualified as a chef, in Rome, I began to study Italian cuisine in some depth and discovered that one of the things that makes it  enduringly interesting is the fact that it is so varied, with so many  regional specialities, very local culinary traditions and stories and  anecdotes that give many of the dishes extra spice. This series of books  explores many of those delicious aspects of Italian food and it is my  way of taking you on a culinary journey, with me, through all the  Italian regions I have come to know and love over the years.

I have carved out a career from my love of Italian food and wine and  now, with over forty titles to my name, I am still as fervent about my  subject as I was when I cooked up my pies in that sandpit!

Buon appetito, and happy cooking all'Italiana!Regional Cooking of Italy

8 Comments

  • angelanorr  on  9/25/2013 at 11:06 AM

    OH how I'd love to visit each of those areas to do a little tasting. I think the book collection is quite unique as I'm not sure which region of the country the foods I like and cook come from.

  • Toppermom  on  9/25/2013 at 11:28 AM

    I have been learning about and exploring Italian cuisine for the last 25 years when I met my Italian-American husband. I have many Italian cookbooks, but none by this author--sounds like it would be a wonderful addition to my collection! Fingers crossed!!

  • sisterspat  on  9/25/2013 at 11:43 AM

    Love Italian cuisine! Just purchased the Italian vegetables cookbook. I have a good assortment of Italian cookbooks and would welcome this set.

  • ckbkchick  on  9/25/2013 at 11:58 AM

    Always a pleasure to find a cookbook author previously unfamiliar to me! Thanks EYB! While it's hard to choose one favorite region of Italy's wonderful cuisine, let alone one dish, I do love the farro soup from Lucca in Tuscany, Minestra di Faro Lucchese.

  • notknapping  on  9/25/2013 at 1:26 PM

    Fantastic, a new Italian author for me! Rome, I love the food of Rome, particularly in the spring when artichokes are in season.

  • Charlie  on  9/25/2013 at 1:56 PM

    Ooo what an exciting collection of books. I already have risotto risotto so be great to add this set to my colleague to collection. Thanks EYB for consistently educating us on the best new books around

  • Anna Maria  on  9/26/2013 at 5:25 AM

    What a great collection. I know Valentina's other books, I'm sure these new ones will be just as good.

  • Vickie Harvey  on  9/26/2013 at 8:00 AM

    Italian is my favorite cuisine. I am particularly interested in foods from Rome and Sicily as that is where my grandmother and grandfather were from, respectively. I am not familiar with this author and am excited to learn about her cooking.

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