CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

A pesky squid and the Nanna, 92, who stitches up ninny Jamie: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Jamie Cooks Italy 


The Repair Shop 


At the end of the Victorian era, a middle-class fashion erupted for recording the ancient folk traditions of Britain before they died out for good.

Amateur historians travelled the country, collecting fairy stories and sailors’ songs from country people as old as the century, and preserving their dying dialects. Thank heavens they did, these were the last echoes of Olde England.

Jamie Oliver is following the same impulse as he coaxes Italian grandmothers — or ‘Nonnas’ — into revealing their favourite recipes, on Jamie Cooks Italy (C4).

This is much more than a collection of tips on preparing pasta — he was discovering some all-but-forgotten flavours of the rural Mediterranean.

Jamie Oliver has been coaxing Italian grandmothers — or ‘Nonnas’ — into revealing their favourite recipes, on Jamie Cooks Italy (C4)

On the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily, he met Nonna Francina, 92, who showed him how to stuff a gutted squid and boil it in sauce. The capers that gave the dish its juicy bite came from her garden, where she grows them for market.

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Each time Jamie stuffed a squid, she took it from him and fixed it. Well, there’s a knack to it. But the real trick was when she revealed how to stop the stuffing from spilling out — by sewing her seafood shut with a needle and thread. 

To Nonna Francina, that’s simply the right way of doing things. Perhaps it once was commonplace across the Med. Today, it’s an almost extinct piece of culinary history . . . until TV rescued it.

Tartan terror of the night 

Laughs were rare as Robert Rinder traced his family’s Holocaust history on Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1). 

But I smiled when he defined relief as ‘that lovely moment someone stops playing the bagpipes!’

On a neighbouring isle, Jamie found Nonna Marina. She presented her family method of roasting rabbit in the musty dregs of red wine, braising it till it was dark and sticky.

Brits are more likely to keep rabbits as pets these days than slow-cook them. Jamie tried to claim that we could enjoy the same taste sensation by steeping chicken breasts in balsamic vinegar, but that, frankly, sounds like a load of old flannel.

He also suggested a quick way of doing squid, flash-grilling it on a barbecue and rolling it in herbs. The Nonnas would not approve.

Jamie back in his British kitchen is one of telly’s most aggravating characters. He’s annoying on holiday too: ‘Lovin’ it, kissin’ it, dressin’ it,’ he crowed as he poured olive oil over aubergines.

Still, the scenery and the dishes looked so authentic that it’s impossible to be harsh on him.

It was a pleasure to see their skills as The Repair Shop (BBC2) returned to restore more family heirlooms

Only a few craftsmen and women remember the traditional methods of working wood and leather, so it was a pleasure to see their skills as The Repair Shop (BBC2) returned to restore more family heirlooms.

Handing over her late grandmother’s broken butter churn, farmer’s daughter Caroline, from Derbyshire, lamented: ‘None of us knows how to make anything any more. It’s all in the supermarket, the old ways are lost.’ Evidently, Caroline has the soul of a Nonna.

To mend the churn, presenter Jay Blades called in a cooper or barrel-maker, a man who wielded a hammer like a Norse god bashing out thunderbolts. Pounding rivets into the hoops, he simply stretched the metal bar around his anvil and belted them through like nails into plywood, with a colossal five-and-a-half pound hammer.

Away from that noise, clockmaker Steve was fixing the mechanism of a lady’s gold pocketwatch that had survived four years sewn inside the lining of a dress — hidden from the guards at a Japanese wartime internment camp.

Artefacts like these aren’t merely precious, they are irreplaceable. Like the recipes, we have a responsibility to keep them safe.

Seeing how that’s done is both interesting and satisfying. 

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