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A recipe for life?

October 9, 2012

RagoutA book review, a recipe for ragout and an Antonio Carluccio cook book giveaway.

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.

Books from Antonio CarluccioThe 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.

Antonio Carluccio in Dubai

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.

Three books by Antonio Carluccio

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 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.

Tomatoes and 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).

  1. October 9, 2012 8:34 am

    Obviously not an entry, but thank you Sally for this review. I’d heard about Antonio’s biography, and was hoping to pick it up – I will now. I wonder if it’s out on Kindle?

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 9:00 am

      It’s on Kindle in the UK – not sure where you are! Worth a read, I zipped through it in an afternoon, but not what I expected!

      • Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial permalink
        October 9, 2012 9:10 am

        Bought it Sal, thank you! Very cheap on Kindle US.

      • Sally permalink*
        October 9, 2012 9:29 am

        Excellent – let me know what you think Celia.

  2. October 9, 2012 8:59 am

    Hi Sally, I would like to have Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food… it had me at “complete” though less sassy than most cookbook titles, I have high hopes it will deliver. 🙂

  3. Anna permalink
    October 9, 2012 9:02 am

    Would love to win a copy of Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food as the only Italian cookbook I have is by a fellow New Zealander. While she is knowledgeable, I don’t think you can get a higher authority on Italian food than Carluccio!

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 9:29 am

      He is an authentic voice and one of the pioneers in bringing true Italian cuisine to a wider audience. When he first went to the UK he says that the food served was ‘Britalian’!

  4. October 9, 2012 9:06 am

    I did the tweet! 🙂

  5. October 9, 2012 9:07 am

    ooooh and left a comment on your FB page too! 🙂 crossing my fingers 😀

  6. October 9, 2012 9:23 am

    I would love to win the Carluccio’s Italia for my food-library because Food isn’t just a meal-time offering for me – it’s an experience, that stays with me long after the last mouthful was savored. A good food book or a great picture of a beautifully laid-out meal are just as appetizing as the bite itself! I breathe a new place through its food & culture and Italy(as is for every foodie) is the temple of all things fresh, flavorful & fabulous!

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 9:27 am

      I can only agree Rupal – thanks for the comment and good luck.

  7. October 9, 2012 9:24 am

    I love Carlucci’s – one of my first “comfort food” finds when I arrived in Dubai! Please enter me in the contest; if I win I would choose the Antonio Carlucci’s Italia . . . we are taking a road trip through Italy next summer and I think this sounds like a great way to prepare! Thanks

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 9:27 am

      Great idea Katie – I’m green with envy!

  8. October 9, 2012 9:27 am

    HI Sally i would like to win Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food. I love Italian food so who better than “Godfather of Italian gastronomy” Mr Antonio Carluccio who can teach me to master Italian food. I am just a food lover who likes to try all cuisines but Italian has always had a special place & i love it .

    Tweeted & commented of FB too 🙂

  9. October 9, 2012 9:28 am

    HI Sally i would like to win Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food. I love Italian food so who better than “Godfather of Italian gastronomy” Mr Antonio Carluccio who can teach me to master Italian food. I am just a food lover who likes to try all cuisines but Italian has always had a special place & i love it .

    Tweeted & commented of FB too
    Amrita chachara

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 9:31 am

      I like that – ‘Godfather of Gastronomy’! Good luck

  10. October 9, 2012 9:31 am

    I’ve been to Italy once and to learn on how to prepare the food and the story behind it would be interesting – Italia cookbook for me (hoping I win).

  11. October 9, 2012 10:12 am

    A delicious pasta dish! Thanks for sharing your interview with Antonio Carluccio.



  12. Stuart permalink
    October 9, 2012 10:58 am

    Hi Sally my wife and I are scheduled to spend 2 weeks in Italy next year and we cant wait. I would love to win the Complete Mushroom book. I absolutely love mushrooms and when in Europe the variety and quality always amaze me. When out walking in France and Italy and I see different mushrooms I am never sure whats edible and whats not……… I would love to learn more about this most delectable of ingredients so next year we do some of our own foraging

  13. Claire Townsend permalink
    October 9, 2012 11:28 am

    I love food. I love Italian men……do I need to say more?! Mushrooms……one of my favourite foods….salivating just thinking about them on hot buttered granary toast……

  14. October 9, 2012 11:32 am

    how sad that his life has not been easy. I have spoken to people about the lives they experienced in Italy during the war years and it is scary. My gran would never speak of it! Have a great day Sally 🙂

  15. sue permalink
    October 9, 2012 11:35 am

    Hi Sally, i always feel quite sad whenever i see Antonio in interviews and on tv and its a shame because he,s an amazing chef. makes me want to give him a big hug……..haha.
    Im back in the UK now and Carluccio,s have just opened in meadowhall in sheffield, its a treat to enjoy a fruit beverage with my pasta……..! Still love to catch up with life in Dubai thru your blogs,

  16. October 9, 2012 12:09 pm

    What a lovely review Sally.
    🙂 Mandy

  17. October 9, 2012 12:11 pm

    Lovely post Sally & amazing photos! I’m not able to enter the giveaway but I WILL be looking forward to picking up his mushroom book.

  18. October 9, 2012 12:12 pm

    I never knew that about Carluccio – I always thought he was such a sweet, happy, contented man. At least he found some solace in cooking though and I love his recipes – so simple and rustic and honest. I can’t enter this competition but I’d love to read his memoir.

  19. October 9, 2012 1:20 pm

    tweeted about the giveaway 🙂

  20. Dima Sharif permalink
    October 9, 2012 1:35 pm

    I heard about this book, and having read your review here I am even more eager to read it now! There is something very profound, about people sharing such personal experiences, mostly as passed on life lessons to those who come. I do agree that the man comes out as a cheerful, warm individual who is full of energy… But hey all are human in the end and experiences force traits upon us sometimes! Thanks for the review shall read the book soon 🙂

  21. Marie permalink
    October 9, 2012 2:10 pm

    Hi Sally, I really enjoy reading your blog ! I would love to win Carluccio’s Italian cook book for my eldest son, Sebastian who is aspiring to become a professional chef ! He really enjoys cooking Italian food and I think this would be a wonderful surprise for him ! Thanks

  22. Saloni Banga permalink
    October 9, 2012 3:49 pm

    Hi Sally, I have been following your blog posts since long. I would love to read and try out recipes from Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food. Italian cuisine has been a favorite, being an amateur cook I find trying out the easy to put together recipes quite fun. We visited Carluccio’s at Dubai Marina Mall two weeks back and were in love with the ambiance and the food ofcourse. Here’s a link for the review on my husband’s food blog as well –

    I missed attending Antonio Carluccio’s book signing event due to work and tweeted about it as well. I appreciate his philosophy towards cooking and appreciate the simplicity with which he churns out the recipes. Making the most out of the best you have in hand and not look for a zillion things and use different gadgets. My grandma says that the most ingredient is love and care while cooking. She sings and cooks food with a simple smile playing along, that’s stayed with me.

    I have

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 5:30 pm

      Oh I do agree with your Grandma…

  23. October 9, 2012 4:00 pm

    Since I’m not very fond of mushrooms, I would love to win a copy of either Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food or Antonio Carluccio’s Italia as I am sure making caponatas & crostinis inspired by this great Italian legend’s recipes would sweep my prince of his feet (wink! wink!) and probably he would take me to this romantic country where I can go on those lovely gondola rides 😀 Ah! a girl can dream all she likes right?

    Anyhow, Antonio seems like such a lovely, down to earth person. Enjoyed reading your post.

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 5:29 pm

      I’m a daydreamer myself… I think it keeps you sane. Thanks for the nice comment.

  24. insaneety permalink
    October 9, 2012 4:12 pm

    Tweeted about this giveaway 😀

  25. Saloni Banga permalink
    October 9, 2012 4:15 pm

    I have tweeted and also left a message on the Facebook page. I hope I win this one *fingers crossed*

    Nevertheless thanks for the opportunity of participating in this amazing give away 🙂

  26. October 9, 2012 4:35 pm

    Can’t enter, as I’m not in Dubai – but I’m constantly impressed as to how many celebrity chefs/bakeries have brances in Dubai!

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 5:28 pm

      It must be the allure of the winter sunshine. But yes we do have a pretty star-studded list of chefs visiting throughout the year – and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my food heroes.

  27. October 9, 2012 4:55 pm

    Not an entry, unless someone wants to pay for a return flight from Edinburgh (husband, are you reading this) but I enjoyed your review. It is refreshing to hear your thoughts on his personality and persona, and not just an affirmation of how brilliant he/anyone is. And luscious images of a delicious sounding recipe – like your inclusion of a pork chop 😀

    • Sally permalink*
      October 9, 2012 5:26 pm

      Oh yes, nudge husband! Thanks Kellie…and I can’t resist a pork chop. The inclusion of quite a small amount of meat made this a very economical but tasty and comforting dish.

  28. October 9, 2012 5:48 pm

    Fly me to Dubai Mall Sally, pretty please? What a beautiful review. I love the way you write; an endearing insight into the life such an outstanding man. Just reading the post is worth a lot, and the recipe certainly an added bonus! WOW!!

  29. Paddy permalink
    October 9, 2012 5:57 pm

    Eh.. Mama Custard.. pleasa ledda me av a book as I really isa bad a cook?

  30. October 9, 2012 7:24 pm

    I would like to win The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt. as my kids like mushroom but i dont know many recipes 😦
    To learn more mushroom recipes who better than Mr Antonio Carluccio who as over 50 years of experience in cooking

    Commented on fb & tweeted

  31. October 9, 2012 10:29 pm

    Not able to take part but I have enjoyed reading your post and it is always special to meet a person(Mr Carluccio) that you admire! We also enjoyed eating wild mushrooms in our home when growing up! My father would saute them in a little butter with some garlic, then serve with fresh crusty bread to mop up all the juices… a delicious “mof mof” meal! The recipe from Passion for Pasta looks really delicious!

  32. Jacqueline @How to be a Gourmand permalink
    October 10, 2012 5:52 pm

    How blessed are you Sally to have met Antonio Carluccio? A lovely account of your meeting. I’m all for his minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour approach. Beautiful photos and recipe Sally.

  33. October 10, 2012 8:42 pm

    Cucina italiana, a chi dai il dito siI also prende il braccio….I love Italian cooking. I would be happy to win any of those books, but if I’d need to pick one it will be Italia: recipes and customs of the region. The book cover is cute, really, that nonna there promises that book has lovely secret recipes from every regions in Italy. To double my chances to win, I have tweeteed to share the news and been in your fb page as well. hmmm pasta it it for tomorrow in our home. …and i really like your writing with photos, entertaining.

  34. JayEim permalink
    October 11, 2012 12:22 am

    Mushrooms are bland fungus and yet with a drizzle of Olive Oil, a sparkling of salt and a grind of pepper, Mushrooms come to life on the fire.
    Add some chopped parsley and serve on garlic kissed crostini and space is warped to Piemond.

    And that is just scratching the basic surface.

    It is really amazing the versatility of taste achieved with different mushrooms types cooked differently.

    Who else but Antonio Carluccio can master this culinary magic and serves dishes to tantalize the sense.

    I would like to win this book of magic, The Complete Mushroom Book: The Quiet Hunt.

  35. October 11, 2012 2:33 am

    For a while now I have promised myself to visit your blog and one thing or another prevented from doing so. I am so glad I took the time now and have become a follower. When Kitchen Butterfly visited New York, she mentioned you. So here I am andlook forward to reading your posts. I also have one of his books.

    • October 11, 2012 7:36 am

      How nice of KB to mention me. I found your blog when we cooked on Foodalogue’s last culinary trip around the world together – run by the inimitable Joan. Really appreciate the follow.

  36. PBSwine permalink
    October 11, 2012 2:47 am

    Hello! Thanks for this recipe, which I’d like to make. It doesn’t seem to mention just when to add the meat to the cooking process. Thanks for your time!

    • October 11, 2012 7:32 am

      I checked this several times and couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing so thank you so much. I have amended the recipe. Please let me know how you get on when you cook it.

  37. October 11, 2012 8:58 am

    Ohhhh! I want to win the Italia book 🙂 Keen on reading more on Italian eating customs ;p Hope to win 🙂

    • Sally permalink*
      October 11, 2012 4:55 pm

      Fingers crossed Didi 🙂

  38. October 12, 2012 1:18 am

    Hmmmm, Sally. I Love him and I’ve enjoyed his cooking shows – I never knew there were shadows. But we all have them, some more than others. We seek and search and some find it right away and others take years…..but pasta can indeed be restorative and placate the belly, then the soul! I love the photos

  39. October 12, 2012 10:59 pm

    You’ve woven the post so beautifully – from the audio clipping, to the photos of the autographed copies to the recipe that you have followed – this post is brilliant. Specially the insight into the life of the man himself.

    Yes, I would very much like to win a cookbook. Interested in Antonio Carluccio’s Italia for many reasons. Italy is one country that excites me to the hilt – with all its artistic exuberance and gastronomical variations. I am interested in learning about the different speciality dishes doling out from the various regions in Italy.

    Have tweeted as well as left a comment in FB Page.

  40. October 12, 2012 11:02 pm

    Left you a Tweet Sally:)

  41. October 12, 2012 11:02 pm

    Left a comment on FB Page Sally:)

  42. October 15, 2012 10:49 am

    It is strange and sad that someone who comes across as so genial and passionate about all the bounty of this world should actually struggle so much with relationships and life. You just want even more to give him a big cuddle. Thank you for prompting me to buy a copy of Passion for Pasta. I found a bargain second hand ’80s edition (with 80s photos and styling) at Oxfam that turned out to be signed. I just have to pretend I’m really called Brenda 🙂

    • October 21, 2012 5:47 pm

      You made me chuckle here ‘Brenda’!

  43. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    October 21, 2012 5:22 pm

    I think I might give that spag a bash, sorry didn’t comment earlier couldn’t get into WP


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