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Cookbooks 1: Antonio Carluccio and Priscilla Carluccio

1.     Antonio Carluccio and Priscilla Carluccio. This is the best introduction to Italian cooking because each section lists every kind of fish, cheese, fungi, pasta &c. in cucina with their proper Italian names and convivial explanations. I bought my copy at Fairfield Books in 1998 with the annual $50 birthday note from my mother. I know many of the recipes, but his version of pasta con le sarde, with variations (see below) is a favourite. The bright and breezy host of TV fame is not the person I met in his autobiography, where he goes through family dramas, near-suicidal depressions, and wonders at times what it’s all about anyway. Restaurants and the kitchen turn out to be the answer, plus a talent for public good cheer. That book is called ‘A Recipe for Life’ and I find my copy is signed by the author at a launch at Lorne Bookshop in 2012. They’ve probably been selling off a boxload ever since. Buon appetito!  

Recipe: For pasta con le sarde you can prepare market sardines, or use good tinned SARDINES in oil; one dozen is quite enough. Cooking the other ingredients in the OLIVE OIL the fish came in makes for consistency of flavour. On page 166 of this book, Carluccio boils fennel leaves for at most 20 minutes, but I use plenty of FENNEL SEEDS: same-same. Fry 1 finely chopped ONION until soft, then add 2 tablespoons of PINE NUTS, some blobs of TOMATO PASTE, and 2 tablespoons of CURRANTS. Carluccio uses currants but RAISINS are good if you want the meal sweeter. Some recipes say juniper berries instead of currants, but I’ve tried these and was not thrilled. Slowly add the fennel water and the sardines and keep mixing the sauce. This brings us to the secret Arab ingredient, remembering that this dish is Sicilian. Carluccio says it’s NUTMEG. Sam at Connoisseurs in Carlton added something to his con sarde that he said (mysteriously) he procured from a special dealer in Preston. Pushed to disclose his version of ‘nutmeg’ he said he’d tell me after he retired, given its success with patrons. His was the best pasta con le sarde I’ve ever had, for this reason, and he still has not divulged the secret. Anyway, sometimes I add a mixed spice and PEPPER at this juncture, but it’s not the same. We usually mix the sauce with BUCATINI PASTA, as directed by the master chef. Serve with WHITE WINE.   


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