Antonio Carluccio OBE is the godfather of Italian gastronomy, the maestro of everything from truffles to tortellini. That is why we asked the 77-year-old to share the secrets to his “MOF MOF” or “minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour” cooking philosophy.
1. Timing is everything:
I learnt to cook from my mother but she never actually taught me. I learnt by observing every day, and we were always eating together and being critical about what we were eating, in particular Papa. As a child you absorb these lessons. My father was the railway station master and we lived above the station in Castel Nuovo Belbo. When I was five or six, Mama would send me down into the office to see if the train would depart on time so that she could cook the pasta for exactly the right time. It meant Papa would find the perfect plate of pasta waiting for him. I was educated without even realising it.
2. Simple doesn't mean easy
I believe cooking should be very simple, but simplicity needs rules. In Italy, everybody follows the rules.
3. It pays to know your mushrooms
The British may know their onions, but they definitely don’t know their mushrooms. Mostly they crucify them. I have lived here for 40 years but only ever read about the negative side of mushroom collection, never the pleasure these jewels of nature bring. The Brits cook them so they look like little snails - black and wet - and they don’t taste of mushrooms. They should be sautéed fresh and immediately eaten - order them at Carluccio's for breakfast and they serve them straight away. You don't peel mushrooms, you don’t wash them either, you just brush them. Britain needs its schools, television companies and other establishments to bring clarity and expertise to the subject. There is no mushroom culture. or as Mikhail Gorbachov calls it, “the quiet hunt”. My favourite mushrooms, besides porcini, are a lovely yellow Chanterelle mushroom - it is delightful. you just fry it with chilli, parsley and olive oil. Delicious.
4. Pasta size matters - and so does shape
There are 600 different shapes of pasta, which are chosen according to the local taste of the region. Italians like their palette to be titillated by the shape and it also depends on which sauce it will accompany - it can make a big difference to the taste. In the south of Italy they like big pasta - rigatoni, penne - in the north they prefer smaller sizes - taglioni, orecchiette. There is some pasta that will go well with fish such as linguine, while strozapette - known as “priest stranglers” - goes with lamb.
5. There's no such thing as spaghetti bolognese
In Italy, bolognese is eaten with tagliatelle not spaghetti. This dish does not exist. The British also make it with oregano, parsley and garlic but in Italy it is made with no herbs whatsoever. The most perfect bolognese is made by frying onion in oil, adding the mince - it should be two kinds, a mix of veal and beef - letting it brown, then adding a shot of white wine, which you let evaporate, then adding tomatoes. These can be tinned but should be good ones (Carluccio or Cirio) and ripe from the plant. The sauce is then left to cook very gently. Perfect.
6. Never add sugar to sweeten a sauce
Only use tomatoes that are perfectly ripe, then they won’t be too sour and you won’t need to add sugar. This way you will have the perfect sauce. Supermarkets will use tomatoes that are not completely ripe and add sugar to sweeten them.
7. When it comes to pizza, less is more
I was in Waitrose once and they had a table where you could top your own pizza. People were piling on more and more, but this is the worst thing you can do. The topping will burn and the base won’t cook. The best pizza is a Margherita. Good flour and yeast for the base, a little bit of tomato, mozzarella and basil. Nothing more.
8. Some of the world's best truffles can be found in Australia
Right now until January is truffle season and they are one of life’s true rare pleasures. Earlier this year I was lured to Australia for the Canberra and Capital Region Truffle Festival and I was amazed at how rich they were in flavour. Whether you indulge in a luxurious white truffle or the more common black, or a truffle oil with pasta, butter and parmesan, it can be one of the most sophisticated foods to offer to your guests. One of my favourites is the precious French Perigord truffle which costs £1,000 a kilo.
9. Italians never put oil in the water
This is another British invention to stop it from sticking, but the only time you ever use oil in Italy is between sheets of lasagne. You don’t rinse pasta in cold water either. You have to cook it to perfection otherwise it can be very banal. Italians like it al dente, with bite. You use one litre of water, with 100g of pasta with 10g of salt. And always look on the packet. If it says cook in seven minutes, it should be exactly seven minutes. After a few seconds stir it and let it cook freely. If you like it a little bit harder, al dente, cook it a minute less. Again it is about sticking to the rules.
10. Don't be fooled by fresh supermarket pasta
What the industry offer as a fresh pasta is a bit of a con because they store it in a plastic bag to keep the moisture in which means it weighs more. If it was left out it would go drier, but still be fresh, and therefore weigh less. So you would be getting more pasta. Dried pasta is better - and Carluccio’s is the best.