Recipe for Disaster by


A Recipe For Disaster

A Recipe for Disaster is a cookbook, a travelogue and the companion to Cookucina, a six-part TV series available on Amazon Video, iTunes and Google Play – see .

It’s also the entertaining journey of an Englishman struggling with the ups and downs of living in rural Italy. After giving up a successful career in television, Stephen found himself dragged back into a world he had happily given up when his neighbor, Lia, persuaded him to listen to her Big Idea – making a TV cookery series. But Lia speaks no English.

And Stephen’s partner, Tam, can’t cook. So, much against Stephen’s better judgment, the three of them embarked on a six-part series set among the rolling hills of the little-known, but spectacularly beautiful, Italian region of Le Marche. In the Cookucina TV series, Lia teaches Tam to cook alla Marchigiana, while Tam translates. A Recipe for Disaster follows their many encounters with the real Italy – a world away from the picture-book ideal of summer holidays in Tuscany.

As the team tries to construct a professional series with no funding they come to rely on the generosity of the Marchigiana people while attempting to overcome the constant difficulties thrown up by those whose stubborn adherence to their age-old way of life is rooted in their beloved fields and woods. A Recipe for Disaster is a goldmine of simple yet delicious recipes while peeling back the veneer of television professionalism and opening the door to a world of Italian surprise and delight.

A Recipe for Disaster comes with unique access to Cookucina, the final six-part TV series, so you can see for yourself how the team cracked their problems and (just about) held it all together in a blistering heatwave. Experience this contradictory world of vendettas and kind hearts through the laughter and frustrations of Stephen and the team, as you follow A Recipe for Disaster slowly coming to its surprising fruition.

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Stephen Phelps

Educated at Oxford University, I began working with BBC Radio, moving to BBC TV where I launched Watchdog and produced the investigative legal series, Rough Justice. In Hong Kong, for BBC World Service Television I oversaw the start of BBC World. I then spent twelve years running my own TV production company, Just Television, specializing in investigative programmes in the field of law, justice and policing. In particular, Trial and Error for Channel 4 which exposed and investigated major miscarriages of justice, winning the Royal Television Society’s inaugural Specialist Journalism Award in 1999. Recently I have been working as a consultant for Aljazeera English on major documentary projects.

In 2002 I took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Writing credits include many plays for BBC Radio, my most recent being a drama documentary for the 30th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Books: The Tizard Mission published by Westholme Publishing in the United States, tells the extraordinary story of how Britain’s top scientists traveled in secret to America in the autumn of 1940 to give away all their wartime secrets to secure US support in WWII. A Recipe for Disaster is a book about living in Italy while trying to make a TV cookery series, Cookucina (now available on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.

I have several other books and three screenplays in development.

Social Media Links –

Twitter                   @StephenP_Writer


Instagram              stephenp_writer



Trailer for Cookucina –


GIVEAWAY (Open Internationally)

Biscotti artigianale
Local honey
3 x DVD of the Cookucina series

Plus a signed copy of A Recipe For Disaster


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My Life in the Italian Countryside

Guest Post by Author

It started as a weekend with friends. It ended up in a fundamental change of lifestyle.

I was a Londoner. Born and bred. I grew up and went to school in west London, then moved to Islington in the North at the beginning of my settled adult life. I was happy there. I didn’t know any better. Until in 2004, some recently re-discovered friends asked us to come and stay in the place they had bought in the Italian countryside. “You’ll love it”, they said. “Oh yes?”, I thought. You see back in the 1980s I’d had a couple of fantastic holidays in Tuscany – right in the heart of Chiantishire. In a villa so perfect it took up half a page on the front of an Observer special edition about holidaying in Tuscany. I loved the Tuscan countryside. And the food. And the wine, of course. How could you improve on that, I thought. So when we were invited to a long weekend in Le Marche (of which, like so many people, I had never heard), I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed. Yet what I found blew me away. This is a place that is just perfect for the English who are hankering after the real Italy. It’s every bit as beautiful as Tuscany, but it has none of its manicured, ever so slightly sterile, perfection. This is a working Tuscany. Its rich patchwork of fields, laid out on rolling hillsides that climb up to some truly inspiring mountains, are all at work. Each and every field seems to be occupied either by a tractor, often operating at a scary angle, or by a little old lady dressed in the ubiquitous blue housecoat gathering kindling for the evening fire. Le Marche is the picture behind the chocolate box. And I fell in love with it.

Thirteen years on this is what I now call home. Okay, I’m older now, but I am done with the pushy, aggressive spirit of London. This is a place where I never feel threatened. There’s a wooded garden in the center of the town square where I live. At night it’s dimly lit, and small bunches of teenagers hang out under the heavy foliage of ancient trees. Yet as you walk past them, on your way to one the several bars that seem somehow to stay open for about 25 hours a day, there is not the remotest sense of threat. And I have never, ever, seen a drunken Italian here or anywhere else in town.

In the daytime, in fact just about every morning, we will pitch up again here to pass an hour or so with friends outside one of those bars (in Italy a bar is more like a coffee shop than a pub, of course). Sometimes we’ll have made an appointment to meet, but it’s not necessary because after five or ten minutes there’s sure to be someone pass by who wants to sit down and chat with you about what’s going on in the world. And even if no-one appears you can join in with the locals – as long as you are prepared to talk about football, food or their health, the three major topics of conversation for any Italian worthy of the name. And in Italy, of course, the football is good, the food even better. But their health seems to be appalling! Although come to think of it, that can’t be true, because there’s a little town just to the south of us which has more centenarians than anywhere else in Europe. So the secret of life here seems to be good, fresh, local food and not too much alcohol, but try to avoid straining your heart too much with heated conversations about the fortunes of your favorite soccer team. So far it’s working for me!

Oh, and two last things to say about life here… a cappuccino and a croissant will set you back a little over £1.50, and when I said “I never feel threatened” here, that was leaving aside the occasional 6.5 magnitude earthquake. But that’s a whole different story.

No threat – earthquakes.



  • anchovies
  • 2 glasses of white wine vinegar
  • Parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt, pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Chop the parsley, cover it with oil, add garlic, salt and pepper and leave to rest. Remove the heads and entrails of the anchovies and fold them open like a book. Arrange them in a baking dish and add the wine vinegar until the fish are just covered. Add salt and pepper and set the pan on the hob for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, lift them gently out of the vinegar and lay them uniformly on a large flat serving plate. Drench them until covered with the prepared oil and parsley.



The whole idea for the Cookucina cookery series and A Recipe for Disaster, the book-of-the-series that followed came out of a dinner at the house of Lia, our next-door neighbour. She’s a fabulous cook, and she likes watching TV cookery shows. “I can do that”, she said, once she had discovered that I used to make TV for a living. I tried to ignore it. I thought I had put all that behind me. But one night she invited us round to dinner. She a BIG IDEA she wanted to talk about. Interesting! Except that it turned out to be the same idea – “I can do that!”. Well the food was delicious, and the wine was plentiful, and by the time I’d finished my second caffe corretto (fortified with grappa) I caved in and agreed to have a go at it. Her food was fantastic, and that evening meal kicked off a riotous few months where we got to learn all about Italian food and even more about the Italians themselves. Here’s how it all began:

Food, wine, and Italian time-keeping

The slow-cooked tomatoes came out of the kitchen on a huge baking tray. Great succulent tomato halves, topped with a crust of baked herbs, breadcrumbs, and orange zest. Bigger by far than the regimented, uniform billiard balls you get offered back home even in the best supermarket (Italian according to the label on the vacuum-pack, but unrecognizable to someone like Lia). Bigger, and misshapen, these guys would have been rejected by the supermarkets, for sure. How could they possibly fit into the perfectly hemispherical indents in the plastic tray?

And what a feast these Marchigiana tomatoes turned out to be. An explosion of flavor, they simply melted in the mouth. Really, I mean it. It’s not just a figure of speech. I got that for the first time that evening. And then there was the Rosso Piceno – a deliciously robust red wine from the vineyards a little to the south of us, where the Piceni were making this wine in pre-Roman times. We often get asked about the local wines – which ones come from Le Marche? So that people can look out for them in their local vintners and surprise their friends at dinner parties with “this lovely little Italian red, so hard to find it’s almost a secret”. Well, yes they’re very hard to find. That’s because they’re almost all drunk here, by the locals. These wines come from small family-owned vineyards, and they’re not churning out industrial quantities for the export market – they’re looking to make a decent wine and a decent living. That’s the way of life here in Le Marche. It can be exasperating at times.

Take our geometra for example. A geometra is someone you have to have if you’re going to buy and renovate an old house in Italy. He’s a sort of cross between an architect and a project manager. And he’s pretty much bound to be a “he”. I’ve never met a female one – the Italians are a bit traditional like that – but that’s another story. Meetings with Luigi (he’s our geometra) almost always take place in a bar, over a caffé or an aperitivo. Even when you try to fix a meeting in his office because today is going to be really businesslike, it somehow always gets transferred to the bar, because his previous meeting (aperitivo?) has overrun, or he has to meet his cousin to collect something for his mother. By the way, these places are called bars, but they’d be known anywhere else as a cafe. They open at about 6 in the morning and pretty soon they’ll be crowded out with workers getting their hearts started with an espresso and a slice of ciambellone. Sometimes the espresso will be “corrected” even at that time in the morning, especially if you’re on your way to work in the sunflower fields. These bars don’t close for lunch (as does everything else in Italy), and they keep on going right through the evening till two, three, four o’clock in the morning. For a long time I thought Basilio, who runs Bar Casciotti, must be some kind of medical miracle who could survive on two hours sleep a night or had an identical twin, but in fact, he’s just the eldest of a family trio, sharing the load with his brother Alfredo and sister Donella. When I say sharing, though, this is rural Italy, and it always seems to be Donella who’s rushing in and out with a tray of coffees or prosecchi, while one brother or other is holding court behind the bar.

Anyway, it was a Thursday, market day, when we were scheduled to meet Luigi the geometra. And on Thursday the main Piazza, we knew, would be heaving with the wives of the local contadini who had come into town in search of a bargain. Which always strikes me as odd, because the stuff is exactly the same as it was last week. Reminds me of Dr. Johnson’s observation on second marriages which, he said, represent “the triumph of hope over experience”. But still, a lot of people do it, don’t they? Marry for a second time, I mean. That particular Thursday was warm and sunny, and the business we had to transact with Luigi was pretty straightforward, so it was the perfect day for a meeting outside Basilio’s bar in the sunshine, and that’s what we’d agreed in a text exchange with Luigi over breakfast a couple of hours earlier. Eleven o’clock, he had suggested. Perfect for us, as it’s just about the latest you can order a cappuccino without getting a funny look. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink to the Italians, and that’s that. Why would you drink it after 11.30? In fact, we disgrace ourselves regularly in the eye of the locals – all the more so because Tam likes to drink caffé latte, and that’s just a drink for children – whatever the time of day. The day we flew into Ancona for the first time, our friend Chris picked us up at the airport, and before we hit the road he suggested we get a drink. Tam ordered a latte, just as she would have done in London. And that’s what she got – milk. Lesson number one, things are different here.




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