A recipe for life?
The title of Antonio Carluccio’s memoirs seems to be a little misplaced. Far from providing ‘A Recipe for Life‘ he seems to be searching for that elusive combination of ingredients to bring him happiness even at the age of seventy-five years old. This comes as a quite a surprise, having always viewed Antonio Carluccio as a charming, happy-go-lucky, cuddly bear of man; indeed it seems to have come as a shock to Raymond Blanc (cited as a close friend) who reveals in the introduction that he had little knowledge of Antonio’s repeated attempts at suicide, pattern of sinking into deep depression and serial relationship breakdowns.
Although Carluccio claims to have been candid in these memoirs and has revealed some highly personal details of his life previously camouflaged and buried away, there is still a feeling of distance in the narrative. The book gives a fascinating insight into life in Italy during the Second World War and living under fascism, the historical and geographical details are expounded upon and, of course, the food is described with great passion. But there is something missing in the voice of the man himself; I was left wondering why, after the break up of his third marriage after 27 years, his last wife Priscilla, the sister of Terence Conran, has not spoken to him since and neither have his many step-children. Perhaps he is also looking for the answer to this question. His deep love of nature, whittling hazel sticks, art, the countryside, food, wine and cooking is not in doubt. The book is peppered with simple recipes from ragout to pears poached in Vin Santo. He’s also a caring and ethical man about humanity in general and states that if he had been an academic, anthropology would have been his topic. Successful long-term relationships remain elusive.
The first cook book I ever bought was The Cook Book by Terence and Caroline Conran which I bought at Habitat and carted home on the bus with my chicken brick (the memories of its weight and subsequent three-day arm-ache are still with me). The recipes were exotic (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic), the contemporary middle-class lifestyle it portrayed an aspirational world away. Another early purchase in my culinary library was The Sunday Times Cook Book by Arabella Boxer. This introduced me to several cooks who I still admire to this day including Claudia Roden and Antonio himself. He is pictured standing behind party food for 25, chicken livers, arancini and stuffed vine leaves, with a formidable expression. His subsequent TV series and cookery books had me enthralled and I immediately identified with something he calls his ‘mof mof’ approach – ‘minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour’.
Perhaps he has concentrated all the personal feelings he finds difficult to express in relationships into his cookery books; and that warmth, integrity and vibrance is why I return to them again and again. I have two well-worn tomes on my shelf: A Passion for Pasta is the most used and ranges from the simplest pasta with peas to tortellini in a pastry case (in sarcofago) reminiscent of the luxurious dish served in Lampedussa’s The Leopard. The other accompanied his first TV series “Italian feast‘ which gives the regional context to the dishes.
He was in Dubai recently, on his way to Australia, and I met up with him in his eponymous restaurant in Dubai Mall. Although Antonio Carluccio himself plays only a nominal role these days, the menu remains one of simple, relevant Italian classics with seasonal variations. The only thing missing from the Dubai branch is the option to order a glass of wine (bringing back memories of dining with a dear friend at the Kingston branch), but it’s an informal place to eat unpretentious, well-prepared food, and the terrace has a great view of the Dubai fountains. Mr Carluccio was particularly attentive to the restaurant staff signing many books and posing for photographs. He looked quite tired and I felt sorry for him so I cut my planned questions down to a couple only (felling in one swoop any pretensions to be a hard-nosed journalist!) You can listen to his answers here:
Leaving Dubai Mall, clutching my copy of A Recipe for Life inscribed ‘with much love’, having returned on a night flight from London that morning, all I wanted was a soothing plate of restorative ragout. I suspect that Antonio Carluccio might have felt the same.
Antonio Carluccio cook book giveaway
Carluccio’s has, very kindly, provided FIVE COPIES of Antonio’s cookery books for me to give away to my blog readers. You can choose from Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food, Antonio Carluccio’s Italia and The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt. I’d like any one of them on my shelves myself (read more about them here). The only proviso is that the winners must collect them from Carluccio’s in Dubai Mall. There are three ways to enter:
Leave a comment on this post saying which cook book you’d like to win and why.
You can also get an extra entry if you Tweet about this competition with a link to this post and mentioning @mycustardpie – please add a comment to say that you’ve done this.
Another extra entry is to leave a comment on My Custard Pie Facebook page saying why you’d like to win (and please let me know in a comment here too).
You have until midnight (UAE time) on 23rd October 2012 to enter and I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 24th October (chosen by Random.org). Good luck to everyone. Sorry if you live outside the UAE and can’t participate – but I welcome your comments as always.
Tomato and meat ragu
- adapted from a recipe by Antonio Carluccio in A Passion for Pasta
The sauce serves 8 (you can reserve half and freeze it) and the meat 4
The method of cooking the meat in the sauce is traditional. Italian’s would eat the sauce with pasta as a prima course and then the meat as a main.
olive oil, approx 2 tablespoons
2 large onions, chopped finely
600g of meat with bone – I used cubed stewing steak and a pork chop
300 ml red wine (about half a bottle)
4 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes (or about 2kg of ripe, fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped)
a good handful of basil leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put a drizzle of olive oil in a pan with a generous knob of butter, heat gently and sauté the chopped onion until soft and slightly golden. Raise to a high heat, put the pieces of meat into the pan and fry for a few minutes until brown on all sides. Add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes but there is no need to reduce it much. Then stir in the tomatoes and leave to simmer, with the lid on, very gently for 1 1/2 hours. Test the meat, if it is tender add the basil, if not simmer for a little longer. After adding the basil cook gently without the lid for a further 1/2 hour and check for seasoning. Serve with your favourite pasta – wide pappardelle are usual in Italy but my family like spaghetti.
Disclosure: My copy of A Recipe for Life was complimentary, however I paid for A Passion for Pasta and An Italian Feast myself (many years ago) and all views are my own.
Carluccio’s is on the Lower Ground Floor Boardwalk, Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates | Tel: +971 (0) 4 4341320 Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9am – 11pm
STOP PRESS: A couple of places have become available on the Food Photography and Styling Workshop by Meeta Wolff of What’s For Lunch Honey? on 23rd and 24th October 2012. Located in the beautiful Miele Gallery, a hands-on, intensive guide to making better food images, plus live cooking by chefs Dima Sharif and Russell Impiazzi, a field trip to Atlantis The Palm for cocktail making and dinner, covetable props by Tavola and lots of goodies (including from Toffee Princess, Lindt and Lime & Tonic Dubai).