BOOK REVIEW Dunne & Crescenzi – The Menu

“We really cook very simply. Remember that the methods and ingredients have been used for generations and in the past there were hardly any cooking facilities and definitely no microwave ovens, so things had to be easy. The key to the whole thing is that in the ‘old days’ food had much better flavour and simple treatment had wonderful results. But all is not lost. Look out for good ingredients from small, conscientious producers and you’ll find all the flavour is still there. There are a few ingredients that I cook with all the time…my paint box of flavours. Our cooking is remarkably simple. Reading our recipes it looks like everything is flavoured with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and flat leaf parsley. In fact many things are transformed by these simple ingredients, so that their flavour and texture are enhanced.”

The quotation comes not from ‘Dunne & Crescenzi – The Menu’ but from another book I hold very dear, Mary Contini’s (of Valvona & Crolla) ‘Dear Francesca..’. There are many similarities, both are a family affair into which the cookbook buying public are permitted a glimpse; both celebrate the simplicity of Italian cooking; both are written by people on a mission to put the delights of Italian food out there on the high street.

I’ve been a fan of D&C since they first opened their doors in Dublin’s South Frederick Street, happily perching on a barrel top by the bar when they couldn’t offer me a seat in order to devour the bresaola and rocket or good minestrone for lunch. I’ve whiled away many the afternoon in there, putting the world to right with friends over a bottle of Marisa Cuomo’s wine. Nowadays, I’m lucky to have a branch just a five minute walk from home – the multiplicity of outlets, now spread as far as Kildare, is a tribute to Eileen Dunne Crescenzi’s remarkable energy.

A Dunne & Crescenzi outlet is not ‘like Italy’; it IS Italy, as much an outpost of that patchwork quilt of a republic as Sicily or Sardinia. This is apparent in the book. This is no cheffy tome, there is no flirting with fusion, no replacing mozzarella di bufala with roquefort or St.Tola, no larding of pizza with pineapple chunks. Come to think of it, there isn’t a single pizza recipe. The book is simply a celebration of the food served in D&C, recipes and all and that food is an extension of Eileen and Stefano’s home kitchen and those of their relatives, friends and the Italian chefs they employ. It’s so much a family affair that Eileen and Stefano’s daughter, Federica, contributed the excellent photographs.

The recipes are there not for you to admire; they are for you to cook with and, as befits the Italian idiom, there’s nothing in the book that even a beginner would find difficult to replicate. In fact you could pack it with your son or daughter’s belongings when they leave home and be sure they wouldn’t starve. Of course you’d have to issue the stricture that in order to cook proper Italian food you need access to top class ingredients.

I’d like to think I’ll cherish this book – I’ve known Eileen and Stefano for years – but I know I won’t. It will end up on the shelf above the stove, well-thumbed, grease spattered, cover torn, notes scribbled in the margin.

‘Dunne & Crescenzi – the menu’ is also a book for which I’d loved to have written the foreword – damn Graham Knuttel – but then he did live in South Frederick Street so I’ll concede he has a prior claim!

‘Dunne & Crescenzi – the menu’ is published in ireland by Mercier Cookery. €19.99 in hardback.   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED