There was a time when buying “fresh pasta” simply meant picking up a pack of dry spaghetti rather than a tin from the shelf.
Just a few decades on and a revolution in our understanding of Italian food has brought pesto, tortellini, polenta and even pasta flour into British homes. It is a change in kitchen habits that is in large part the legacy of one man: Antonio Carluccio.
Now the vast collection of historic recipes, notes and artefacts gathered by Carluccio, who died four years ago at the age of 80, is to go on show at a new university library and archive in Oxford.
A record of the life and work of the cookery writer, cook and restaurateur opens on 13 septiembre, as part of Oxford Brookes’ Special Collections and Archives. And first in line at the door will be chef Gennaro Contaldo, Carluccio’s longtime friend, who said that he cannot wait.
“It’s going to bring so many memories back. I do think of Antonio every day and he gets a prayer. I can always hear his voice in my mind and I have arguments with him, imagining him telling me that what I am doing is rubbish.”
The loss of Carluccio is still felt sharply by Contaldo, who often appeared on screen with his friend, including in their BBC2 series Two Greedy Italians.
“I miss him dearly. I even have some of his shirts and a jacket to remind me of him,” said Contaldo, 72, who is also well known as Jamie Oliver’s mentor. “Antonio was unusual for having so many old books and such an interest in history. He was a cook, sí, but he was an incredible inspiration too. He would tell you every version of a recipe from memory. He was an Open University of Comida."
Commendatore Antonio Carluccio, OBE, was born in Salerno in 1937, soon moving to northern Italy with his stationmaster father, mother and five siblings. He came to Britain in 1975 as a wine importer and began to amass a personal library of food writing spanning the 16th century to the 21st, of which almost 800 titles have gone to Oxford Brookes.
The works include books on Italian cuisine, on mushrooms and on general foraging as well as on world cookery. Manuscripts of Carluccio’s own books, with hand-written notes and press cuttings, make clear his impact on the food scene of the 1980s, alongside early footage of his appearances on BBC2’s Food and Drink programme, of his first independent series Antonio Carluccio’s Italian Feasts en 1996 and of his last programme, Antonio’s Six Seasons.
“Antonio covered so many types of cooking. Italian food stretches from the Dolomites across to the Adriatic and the Mediterranean coasts and down to the southern islands, por supuesto,” said Contaldo. “The Romans really chose the best place in the world to live because in Italy every region thinks they have the best food. It is the campanilismo, as Antonio used to say. Everyone knows the sound of the bell of their own village.”
Handwritten menus, with art by David Hockney, from Carluccio’s influential Neal Street Restaurant will be on show, as will artworks donated by some of the famous clientele in lieu of payment. The archive also contains a selection of the walking sticks he loved to whittle.
Helen Workman, director of learning resources at Oxford Brookes, described Carluccio as a “giant of the food scene” and said the new library would be an important addition to the food and drink special collections, which include the collections of Ken Hom and Jane Grigson.
“The beautiful foraging sticks which he whittled are among our favourite items," ella dijo.
Carluccio’s food heritage is also kept alive through the foundation he established shortly before his death. With its motto “Training to feed, feeding for life”, it supports those working in hospitality and has provided food to more than one million people through grants made in Britain, India, South Africa, Italy and Malawi.
The autumn months, when the pair would often go out foraging and searching for fungi and nuts together, will be especially hard for Contaldo, él dijo. “But on his behalf I am very proud of this library. Although perhaps ‘proud’ is the wrong word because it sounds as if we are looking down. I’m just very ‘content’ then. When it comes to food, he was the king.”