‘Before Antonio Carluccio, I knew of one way to cook a vegetable: boil it’

Michelin-starred chef JP McMahon on the influence of the late Italian chef, Antonio Carluccio

Antonio Carluccio pictured outside his restaurant Carluccio’s on Dawson Street, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Antonio Carluccio pictured outside his restaurant Carluccio’s on Dawson Street, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

As a self-taught chef, I have taken much of my inspiration and learning from chefs who write, particularly those who use words to advance the craft of cooking, and who help us to make better decisions on buying and preparing ingredients.

Antonio Carluccio, who died earlier today at the age of 80, was one such chef in my estimation. His books were a joy to read and his recipes an even greater joy to follow. Upon reading his books, I always wanted to immediately get up and cook. I remember receiving his book on vegetables – called, aptly, Vegetables – in my early 20s and being fascinated with all the different ways in which one could cook a vegetable.

Growing up in Ireland, I knew of one way to cook a vegetable: boil it! For my Nana, who lived in Bray, every vegetable went into the pot for 45 minutes. Carluccio’s book showed me a different way to think about vegetables, how to give them more care and consideration, to let their inner love come to the fore. I’m thinking of the short essays in his vegetable book on Kohl-rabi, chicory and squash.

From Carluccio, I learned how to make my own pasta. I remember the exact day I made it; I had no rolling pin and had to use a bottle of wine to roll out thin sheets.  It’s a story I still tell to this day every time I make pasta.

At every part of my career to date, I have returned intermittently to Carluccio’s books, always learning more than I did before. When we opened Aniar in Galway in 2011, we were all taken with wild food and foraging, being deeply influenced by the then Nordic food revolution. Returning to Carluccio now, I see all this was already there, I had just overlooked it.

His tips on foraging are excellent, from finding the best wild mushrooms to picking sorrel, nettles and dandelions to add to different pasta and vegetable dishes. We have serious food envy when it comes to Italy, from our little country; it looks like they have it all.

But reading Carluccio, one sees how much of Italian food is both regional and born out of necessity. Ours is no poorer, born also from necessity. I will return to Carluccio always, knowing that the answers to all our food problems lie somewhere in his writings: an appreciation for things that are slow, to give food the love that’s due, to give food a future: that is the legacy of Carluccio.

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