Cirio has been canning and bottling Italian tomatoes for 160 years and the company celebrated this anniversary by inviting Italian chef Antonio Carluccio to cook with its products in front of an audience of bloggers and journalists at the Good Housekeeping Institute in London. Thanks to Lisa from Lovely Appetite, who couldn't go at the last minute, and a tag team of excellent babysitters, I was able to attend.
At the event Carluccio told us that his love of the tomato as an ingredient started when he was a child, and he remembers loving the smell of the tomato plant as a youngster. I can identify with this as my dad grew tomatoes ever summer and the smell of the plants, especially just after watering, is one of the smells that means summer to me.
Carluccio has lived and worked in Britain since 1975, and opened up the first Carluccio's restaurant in Covent Garden in 1998. He's been on our TV screens since the early 1980s and has published many cookbooks. His next book, Vegetables, will be published in October 2016 and is one that I will definitely be adding to my collection. I had the chance to ask him a question and I opted to find out what his favourite vegetarian dish is. He was obviously finding it difficult to choose just one as he mentioned several, but he did tell me that he loves parmigiana with courgette (the dish is traditionally made with aubergines) and beetroot lasagne. He also said that the regions of Puglia and Calabria are the best places to get vegetables in Italy.
What I love about Carluccio's style of cooking, and Italian cooking in general, is how he focuses on great ingredients and simple recipes - yet with fantastic results. He even has a little slogan, mof mof, which he explained means "minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour". I love this. Although I do enjoy a challenge in the kitchen, with three kids around time consuming dinners are out of the question.
Carluccio cooked two dishes for us - mussels alla tarrantina (mussels in a tomato sauce) and pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan bread and tomato soup). Being veggie I didn't try the mussels, but the soup was delicious.
I've made my own version of pappa al pomodoro using Cirio passata (finely sieved tomatoes) for you here. This is adapted from Carluccio's version in the Cirio anniversary recipe booklet.
300g ciabatta, ideally stale
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1000g Cirio passata
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper
Fresh basil leaves and olive oil to serve
Slice the ciabatta and cut each slice in half. If the bread isn't stale, lightly toast it in the oven at a low heat (50°C fan) for 10 minutes, turning half way, to dry it out.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the garlic and fry for a minute. Stir through the bread, then add the passata, vegetable stock and balsamic vinegar. You can also add a little salt now although I left this out as I was serving to children as well.
Cook over a low heat for 40 minutes until the liquid has thickened. Serve warm with salt, black pepper, fresh basil leaves and extra olive oil.
Disclaimer: I was invited to attend a Cirio event with Antoni Carluccio. I received no payment for this post and all opinions are honest.