antonio carluccio remembered

Today the culinary world lost a real talent. Antonio Carluccio passed away at the age of 80, leaving behind full stomachs and big smiles.

Antonio Carluccio left an impression of me from a young age. That wiry hair, that accent as syrupy as Marsala wine and avuncular grin left an indelible impression. His Italian Feasts on BBC 1 was totally unlike any other cooking programme on at the time. Part travelogue, part cooking show, but all heart, Antonio trudged around parts of Italy querying locals – with inexplicable access to some very special places – and finding the heart of their cooking. And so often, the heart of the cooking was around the family.

In Two Greedy Italians, he again toured Italy with his long-time friend and business partner Genarro Contaldo. It was often hilarious as the pair of them grumpily went round revisiting their youth or exploring new areas, cooking and eating as they go along.

Everything in Antonio’s cooking was about simplicity. So often it was the most basic of recipes, cooked simply with care and affection. “Mof mof!” he would repeat often. Minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour. And that really gets to the heart of Italian cooking. Just a few ingredients – and the best at that – and treat them with care to get the best meals you can.

It was his bolognese that I first really turned my head: just meat, onion, wine, tomato passata and puree simmered for ages to give you a rich, satisfying ragu. Where’s the carrot? The garlic? The basil?! You can read the whole thing here. I’ve made dozens of his recipes over the years, including a chestnut gnocchi and an open raviolo. His recent cookbook Vegetables was my choice for cookbook of 2016.

I was bowled over to meet the man last year. He clearly adored food and cooking, and talking about it. He could talk for ages about the subject. Get him started on mushrooms and he would not stop.

me with antonio carluccio

Me with Antonio Carluccio

But it’s not all lightness.  Despite a career as TV presenter, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and before that, journalist and salesman, this busy life hid recurring depression. For all his good humour and gentle manner, there was darkness inside. If you want to know more about his life I strongly recommend his autobiography.

Alongside presenting TV and writing twenty cookbooks, Antonio was appointed Commendatore by the Italian Government in 1998 for services rendered to Italy and an OBE from the Queen in 2007 for services to catering. He was awarded the AA Hospitality Lifetime Achievement award in 2012.

His legacy though is that lightness of touch and trust in good ingredients. I think I’ll make a bolognese this weekend and raise a glass to the ‘godfather of Italian cooking’.