Who were your heroes growing up? Mine were a rather eclectic, and in retrospect partially embarrassing collection of chefs, musicians and writers. One of my enduring favorites is Antonio Carluccio, an Italian chef, lifelong champion of foraging and early Jamie Oliver mentor. Digging in the dirt with bare hands, scraping earth off mushrooms and truffles with a pocket knife, before conjuring it all into something sizzling and frequently involving bread or pasta, his TV shows were a perpetually hungry child’s dream. If you’ve read his books, you know they’re also a visual and edible treat, filled with gorgeous earthy photography of simple, real food like this Spring Herb Pesto – a variation of one of his recipes that I’ve been making for years.
Fast forward to this winter in London, as we hurried back to our flat through South Kensington, hungry and looking for shelter from a driving snowstorm. Spotting a Carluccio’s – part of an international chain he started but has since sold – we ducked inside. We were warmly welcomed with good wine, fragrant pillows of freshly baked focaccia and a table right next to (gasp) Carluccio himself as he enjoyed a holiday dinner with family and friends. Besides a walking cane (carved himself, with a samurai knife no less…), he was no different than he appeared all those years ago on TV, eagerly attending to his guests and customers with characteristic ebullience and not a hint of superiority. Full, happy and incredulous at the randomness of life, I don’t think I even noticed the ice cold sleet on the way home.
In typical Carluccio style, this simple dish is bursting with fresh, earthy flavor, yet none of the herbs are overpowering. It’s a staple at my house throughout spring and summer, and I often play around with the mix of herbs – maybe adding some thyme and oregano or whatever is abundant in the garden. Serve alone with rustic bread and a lighter red, or a crisp and herbal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Serve it as a side to just about anything – spring lamb, roast pork tenderloin or your favorite roast chicken. Enjoy!
Antonio Carluccio is the author of numerous books, including The Complete Mushroom Book. Be sure to take a peek at his friendly and instructional iPad/iPhone app called “Antonio Carluccio’s Simple Cooking” ($6.99 from the iTunes App Store)
Adapted from “An Invitation to Italian Cooking” by Antonio Carluccio | Serves 4
1 lb (450g) freshly made ribbon pasta or 14 oz (400g) dried fettucine/tagliolini
made with eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Sauce
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp sage, finely chopped
1 oz (30g) pine nuts, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 stick / 4 oz (115g) butter
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 oz (30g) parmesan, freshly grated
1 large lemon, extra parmesan to serve
Place chopped herbs, pine nuts and oil in a medium bowl and mix together.
In a small pan melt butter and stir in garlic. Cook for a few minutes until garlic is just softened.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water, according to directions. Drain, and set aside about a 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
Pour garlic and butter into herbs, along with grated parmesan and a little salt and pepper.
Mix together until well combined, adding a splash or two of the reserved pasta water to make sauce creamier.
Toss pasta with herb paste, taste for seasoning adding more salt if necessary.
Serve immediately on warm plates, topped with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and an extra sprinkle of parmesan.