Cookbook Club: The Collection

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Angela Clutton reflects on the recent gathering of the Cookbook Club, which last month focused on Antonio Carluccio’s The Collection

If it is true (and it is) that every Cookbook Club event ends with us all feeling exceptionally well-fed, I think it has never been more the case than at the most recent event centred on Antonio Carluccio’s The Collection. A book full of the big-flavoured, gutsy, hearty dishes that have made Italian food such a favourite, made Carluccio a culinary icon, and made an absolute feast for our Cookbook Club.

Dishes included the rice bomb with truffle—which in actuality came without the truffle, but was a sensation of pigeon cooked with ceps and all kinds of herby fabulousness, enveloped inside rice in a pudding bowl. (When we turned the ‘bomb’ out and cut into it for the big reveal, there were actual squeals of excitement from everyone watching.) Pan-roasted peppers with almonds gave a lovely hit of sweet and sour, which worked to temper some of the other heavier, rustic flavours. The onion pie was exactly as Antonio described it: a bit like a pasty, but with meat-free depth of flavour from the slow-cooked red onions with ricotta and pecorino.

Garlic chicken

Potato cake came not just with a story of how Antonio’s recipe differed to that of the cook’s family (we love it at Cookbook Club when members bring up their own favourite recipes), but how she, only a few days before Antonio’s untimely death, met him and experienced firsthand his charm and love of fresh produce. It left a few damp eyes up in The Cookhouse and we were all very pleased to sink into the comforting embrace of potatoes baked with prosciutto, mozzarella, and eggs.

Buttery depth of flavour
I had something of a life-changing moment with bagna càuda, a hot anchovy and garlic dip. Its buttery depth of flavour, which is so delicious with radishes or celery, becomes incomparable if you dunk ciabatta into it. Chicken roasted with eight heads of garlic, rosemary and white wine proved the very simplest dishes can be showstoppers if done well. The calibre of the chicken from Wyndham House Poultry did most of the work for me (and the free giblets that came with it made for terrific stock).

Desserts were a triumph too: from a beautifully light hazelnut cake, to Friulian pastry with rum-soaked fruit and nuts—a coil of rich splendour that many felt would make an excellent Christmas cake or pudding alternative.

Our background to all the feasting and sharing was much talk of Antonio, his food, his passion and his legacy. Talk too of our other favourite cooks, chefs and food writers that have through the generations shaped how we embrace Italian food, from Anna del Conte and Marcella Hazan, to Rachel Roddy and Theo Randall—each of them loved for how they enable us to replicate in our own homes the cooking of one of the great food nations, but few held in greater affection than Antonio.