I first discovered Carluccio's Complete Italian Food a couple of years ago when I was in the process of setting up and opening the first Olive Press restaurant in Preston. I can't honestly remember where and when I bought it; if I've 10 minutes to spare, I always have a browse around a bookshop. But I obviously had Italy on the brain and, as it was by Carluccio, whom I've met, it caught my attention.
What is great about the book is that it covers the whole of Italy and gives you a real feel for Italian cooking through the magnificent photography of Andr‚ Martin as well as through the recipes themselves. The photography is very detailed and really gets behind the food. If you take the making of mozzarella, for example, there are nine photos detailing each stage of the process. The same treatment is given to Parmesan and the process of making sun-dried tomatoes. You don't often see that in a glossy book.
Naturally, there are a few Carluccio anecdotes scattered throughout the book, which again give a feel for the country and make you sense he really knows his subject. I particularly liked the one about lamb's testicles.
The book is broken down into produce sections: fish and shellfish; fresh and cured meats; vegetables and pulses; pasta, rice and grains; fungi; oils, vinegars, herbs and spices; dairy products; fruit and nuts; bread and baking; poultry and game. At the start of each chapter, before you get to the recipes, there is what I consider the best part of the whole book - an A-Z of the relevant produce.
For instance, under the fruit and nut section you'll find peanuts - but with a breakdown of where they are grown in Italy and how each region uses them in dishes and cooking (including as groundnut oil).
The pasta A-Z section is enormous, comprising 10 pages with eight entries to each page. There were loads of pasta varieties of which I'd never even heard until I read about them here, including agnolotti, a stuffed pasta similar to ravioli, with different fillings depending on the geographical region in which it's made.
Particularly well-thumbed is the page with Carluccio's minestrone soup. Soups are usually an example of something simple that all chefs think they can make and often get wrong. So making a soup is my test for how good a book is. I took the recipe, copied down every detail and tried it out; it now forms the basis for the minestrone we put on the menu at the Olive Press.
We've also used the mozzarella in carozza recipe as the inspiration for a dish on the Olive Press menu. It's basically a deep-fried cheese sandwich made with panne di compagna, but we do it with cured ham and ciabatta.
Carluccio's Complete Italian Food has become a bit of a bible - a security blanket - for me. In fact, I've just ordered four extra copies of it, one for each of the Olive Press restaurants.
Paul Heathcote, chef-restaurateur, Longridge Restaurant, Simply Heathcote's, the Olive Press
carluccio's complete italian food
Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio
Quadrille, £12.99 (paperback)