“I would love to make love on a bed of fresh basil” by Antonio Carluccio the godfather of Italian gastronomy.
This man makes you smile. He has such a good sense of humour and such an avid imagination when it comes to describing food.
Antonio Carluccio is originally from Salerno and has been living in the UK for over 40 years. He has had a very interesting life living and working in different countries. He is a chef, a book writer, he is often on TV and he is the founder of the restaurant chain Carluccio’s. His greatest passion is mushrooms.
I was invited for an evening with Antonio who has partnered with Cirio the oldest and most popular Italian canned vegetables brand founded in 1856. This was to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Cirio.
Antonio grew up with Cirio tomatoes and so did I. Some people in Italy even describe Cirio as a specific type of tomatoes used to make passata. My mum sometimes says: “I need to buy some Cirios”. How funny.
As Antonio was talking I could see what’s behind his success. His passion for food is just overwhelming: “Wonderful, fantastic, amazing..” As he mops up tomato sauce with bread to make a scarpetta and puts it straight into his mouth he cannot help himself by describing the intense explosion of flavours you can taste in your mouth out of a very simple dish.
Antonio you are my hero.
Antonio cooked “pappa al pomodoro” for us, a Tuscan soup made with slices of toasted bread previously rubbed with garlic cloves and Cirio traditional passata then cooked for 50 minutes over a low heat. This is served with basil leaves and plenty of olive oil.
Antonio kept smelling the basil as he was cooking saying this is one of the best perfumes in the world. I can certainly agree with that.
Then he made “Cozze alla Tarantina” or mussels Taranto style a very simple and tasty dish: Just fresh mussels, Cirio finely chopped tomatoes, a drop of white wine and plenty of fresh basil. The kitchen smelt simply divine!
I laughed a lot, Antonio has a good sense of humour.
He said that “with tomatoes you can do hundreds, no thousands, of things!’ ‘Since I was very small, my mother cooked with Cirio tomatoes’ and so did mine I was thinking.
Tomatoes are the base for many dishes in Italian cuisine. He said you should never add sugar when making a tomato sauce and only use tomatoes that are perfectly ripe. That is the secret, if the tomatoes are good then your sauce will be good just as it is. No need whatsoever to add any sugar.
Now I must say that I always add a tiny amount of sugar to a tomato sauce partly due to the fact that some tomatoes are not completely ripe and they retain some acidity.
Antonio has a “mof-mof” principle: minimum of fuss and maximum of flavour. This means that Italian food is simple. There is no need to add too many ingredients to complicate flavours.
“When making a meat ragu’ sauce for pasta let it bubble up slowly like the lava of a volcano..”
He said that what you need to cook good Italian food is to use good quality ingredients so you won’t need to cover up the flavours with sauces or extra ingredients.
And rightly so! A few, good quality ingredients make the best Italian meals ever.