Talking Italian with Antonio Carluccio
A ntonio Carluccio is not such a greedy Italian these days. Although still portly, the avuncular chef has shed more than three stone in recent years, and puts it down to only eating half of what's on his plate.
"It's not about the diet, it's attitude," he says, carefully slicing through a rasher of bacon but only occasionally taking a mouthful.
"When you reduce the volume of your stomach and eat less, your stomach doesn't need more, and you're happy."
He points to two remaining hash browns on his plate, and smiles: "I will eat one more of these. But that's just greediness."
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A fan of any cuisine that's cooked simply, authentically and with good ingredients, Carluccio is, of course, a long-time advocate of the food from his native Italy.
After more than 35 years in Britain, the stationmaster's son still speaks with a strong Italian accent, and his conversation is sprinkled with anecdotes about the old country.
"I like to live here in London and go to Italy several times a year, so I don't feel withdrawal symptoms," he says.
So it was with great pleasure that he returned there with old friend and fellow chef Gennaro Contaldo, to explore the regional varieties in the cuisine for the second series of their Two Greedy Italians show and accompanying book.
"It's unbelievably varied," he says. "A Sicilian doesn't know the food of the north. Every region likes to cook their own recipes made with locally grown ingredients according to a long history of food.
"And all the regions have influences coming from the states around it. For example, in the north you have Germanic influences. And in Sicily the influences are the Arab countries. Every region has something special."
He is pleased British people are finally starting to rectify the mistakes of "Britalian" cuisine – spaghetti bolognese, a dish that never existed in Italy, is one of his bugbears – and appreciate real Italian cooking.
"Now the British like Italian food. They like it because of its simplicity – very simple flavouring without complicating the recipe. With just two or three items you have a wonderful taste."
Simplicity is part of the ethos at Carluccio's, the chain of restaurants that bears his name.
Although he sold his stake in 2005, he continues to work as a consultant, making sure the food still tastes as he envisaged.
He recently reached the milestone of his 75th birthday and insists life is treating him "very well".
For now he has no plans to retire any time soon.
"The type of job and work I do is not for retiring. Because you will always eat even when you are very, very old. Perhaps then I'll suggest dishes to elderly people. But it's not the time yet.
"Because I have a passion for food, for me it's not something I have to do. I do it because I want to do it and it's fun."
Try these recipes from Carluccio and Contaldo's latest book, Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy...
(King Prawns and Crab with Garlic and Chilli) Serves 4
175ml extra virgin olive oil
12 fresh raw king prawns, shells on
6 garlic cloves, sliced lengthways
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
Fresh crab meat from 2 large crabs, in chunks
A handful of flat-leaf parsley
250ml white wine
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the king prawns and cook for 2 minutes, turning once. Add the garlic, chilli and crab meat, season with salt, then reduce the heat and cook for a couple of minutes with the lid on.
Add the parsley, increase the heat and add the wine and reserved juices from the crab meat if you have any. Bubble until evaporated, then serve immediately with lemon wedges and lots of good country bread to mop up the juices.
(Alpine Pizza) Makes two large pizzas
500g strong plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
320ml lukewarm water
A few dried breadcrumbs or a bit of semolina, for dusting
For the topping:
80g Gruyere cheese, grated
250g creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
140g salami, cut into strips
A few marjoram leaves
Preheat the oven to 240°C/Gas 9. Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Gradually add the water, mixing well with your hands to obtain a dough. If you find the dough too sticky, simply add a little more flour. Shape into a ball, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes and split it in half. Sprinkle some flour on a clean kitchen cloth and place the pieces of dough on it. Cover with a slightly damp cloth and leave to rise for at least 30 minutes in a warm place.
Meanwhile combine the Gruyere and creme fraiche in a bowl, adding some salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface and spread the dough into a circle about 30cm in diameter, making it as thin as possible (without tearing it), with the border slightly thicker.
Repeat with the other dough ball. Sprinkle two flat baking trays with breadcrumbs or semolina and place the pizza bases on them.
Spread the creme fraiche mixture over each base. Top with the onions and salami. Bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with the marjoram and serve.
(Aeolian Bread and Caper Salad) Serves 4
500g country bread or fresella (ready-baked bread)
400g baby vine tomatoes, halved
16 green olives
6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of oregano
If you are using country bread, cut it into slices or chunks and place in the oven on the lowest heat for 2 hours until it has hardened and has a biscuit-type texture. Remove, leave to cool slightly, then drizzle with a little hot water to soften it slightly. If you are using fresella, soften with a little water without cooking.
Arrange the bread on a plate with the tomatoes, capers and olives. Drizzle with oil, and sprinkle over the oregano and some salt. Toss well to combine, leave for 10 minutes for the flavours to develop and serve.
Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy by Antonio Carluccio & Gennaro Contaldo is published by Quadrille, priced £20.