Having written countless books, appeared on many cooking shows and as owner of the ever so popular restaurants Carluccio’s, Antonio sure knows a bit about food.
We caught up with the Godfather of Italian cuisine, and new CIRIO ambassador, to get a rare insight into his upbringing, the trick to the perfect homemade pasta, his food motto, and some beautiful ways to use artichokes.
What sparked your passion for food and mushrooms?
I was born on the Amalfi coast myself but my papa was a stationmaster and was transferred up to the North and that’s where I grew up for about 20 years. Peidmont was a small town and we lived together with farmers and so, you had the feeling really that you participated with nature. Everybody in spring time started already to go pick up some dandelions to make salads and then later on I was also involved in getting the rucola, the rocket – wild, for the salads and when I was a little bit older, the chestnuts and the mushrooms. So slowly slowly I developed this passion for nature which I still have and it is fantastic you know to be in the middle of nature and use it. So practically there my passion was born and obviously remained my passion for the rest of my life.
If you had to eat one meal everyday for the rest of your life what would it be?
That is a little bit hard because naturally when you know a lot about Italian cuisine, from over 20 regions, each one has something to offer that is outstanding. But I would say I would keep it always very simple. I really do love a basic Risotto, perhaps with a little truffle, but you see, where I grew up, truffle was a normal thing, not something out of this world. Then what I like is a lovely plate of spaghettini with simple tomato. That’s why I welcome CIRIO, they have wonderful tinned tomatoes.
Do you think that mushrooms are an underrated ingredient and why?
Very much so, very much so. If you go in the extreme East, mushroom is in every dish. The amount of mushroom that the Japanese and Chinese and so on eat is a lot. We in Europe eat quite a lot of wild grown, especially in Italy and France, and Portugal and so on but with the expection of Britain actually, where they don’t know very much about the entire mushroom philosophy. But slowly, slowly, I think they are becoming a much more used ingredient. But it’s still a bit hard because there is still the belief that mushrooms can poison you, and obviously they can if don’t know them, but you have to know them.
Yes, and they are very healthy!
Oh yes. Very tasty and very healthy, and you can do quite a lot of things with them.
What’s your all-time favourite mushroom?
I would say porcini is the nicest one and the most sought after. Porcino means it looks like a little piglet, it comes from the Italian “Porco’. You can eat it raw to small slices with a little bit of olive oil and lemon as a salad which is wonderful. You can cook it together with rice, with pasta, with sauces and any sort of meat and fish as well. Or even a wonderful strudel with mushrooms. For the strudel the mushrooms are sautéed, with a bit of olive oil, garlic, parsley and so on, and then you enclose it in some pastry, filo pastry or whatever, then you brush it with a bit of egg and then you bake it, it’s wonderful! It’s a very versatile mushroom.
What’s your secret to the perfect homemade pasta?
Elbow grease! You can make pasta just with your hands – and a knife to cut it. But otherwise it is not necessary to have a machine… if you have it better. But if you are kneading until the dough is smooth and nice and then you flatten it with a rolling pin, then you roll it and you cut it in various size of ribbons then you can have taglitini taglietelle, papardelle, and so on…
What food do you think you should always have handy in your fridge to ensure a beautiful meal?
Fresh material always. Some fish, or meat or whatever, and some vegetables like artichokes or aubergines or zucchini, you can do quite a lot with it. Tomatoes, I don’t believe very much in tomatoes from the supermarket especially in England because they are beautiful but don’t taste of anything, so in that case it is better to have the tinned ones and CIRIO is really a very good brand. And then olive oil obviously and a little bit dried pasta. People think that dried pasta doesn’t taste as good as the fresh one but that is a big mistake because they are both very good, done in different ways. You know we have 600 types of dried pasta in Italy, to go with specific sauces and each one works in a different way on the palette. So it’s really lovely to have all those options.
Where is your favourite place in the world to eat?
Mmmmm, home, home! This is where I always get my ideas of food and my experiments. But not doing something weird! Always keeping on the basis of M.O.F. cuisine, which is my motto: Minimum Of Fuss, Maximum Of Flavor. This is my cooking motto. And you don’t have to over work the food, you need to treat it as simple as possible to bring out the flavor of a few items.
Wonderful, and what is your favourite way to use artichoke?
Artichoke, there are various ways. One is the Jewish way – they do it in Rome – you stuff them, with a bit of bread, parsley, garlic and capers and you practically put it in quite a lot of oil and slowly slowly slowly you cook them until they are soft, they are wonderful! Or you cut them in slices and put them in a little batter of egg and flour and you fry them. You can also sauté them with onion and parsley and so on, with the peas and broad beans and then you have a specialty that they do in Sicily called Fritteda. When it is in season they unite all of those ingredients and its fantastic, it’s a stew. There are so many ways to even preserve them in oil, they are very good as antipasti. Or raw, but you can take only the centre, which is very tender.
A lot of people are scared of carbohydrates because of weight. What are your thoughts on how much pasta is ok?
I can tell you one thing: provide the people knowledge on the content of what’s in the food. They can eat whatever they like – but in moderation. It is not necessary to take away completely carbohydrates, this means no bread, no pasta. You can eat a little bit of pasta, but not very fatty sauces with it. And not every day, you know from time to time it is wonderful, but you have the sensation that you don’t deny yourself anything and you eat everything but in small portions.
Tell us more about your ambassador role with CIRIO
I would say it’s not exactly a commercial deal. I decided that in my career never never to do a commercial thing unless it’s for Carluccio. But I took exception on CIRIO because I was very very small, probably five or six, or something my mother already was using CIRIO and my whole life I always used it. I find CIRIO is very good quality, so when they offered it to me, it was lovely to unite two things, pleasure with a little bit of work. CIRIO puts into tins really ripe tomatoes and so it’s ready to make wonderful sauces. I’m glad to do something in the direction of having very good Italian produce to produce very good food.