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Cooking with Carluccio

When Cirio Tomatoes invited me to a live cooking class with the legendary Antonio Carluccio in celebration of the 160th birthday, they did not have to ask me twice. Carluccio is one of my favourite cooks EVER (he doesn't call himself a chef) and I'm a massive Italophile anyway. I practically ran there - as you can see... I literally couldn't believe my luck.

Cirio tomatoes are the oldest brand of tinned tomatoes going - founded in Italy in 1856 to make the most of the incredible summer tomatoes Naples is so known for - and ensures everyone has access to them throughout the year. Carluccio himself is from Salerno, just the other side of the bay of Naples, so told us that such tomatoes are entrenched in his own foodie memories growing up there, hence his partnership with Cirio.

First things first, we were treated to all manner of antipasti and a sneaky glass of prosecco whilst Carluccio and his sous chef got their prep started. He chatted to us throughout and was hilarious, charming and with a very wicked sense of humour - he told us that he primarily started cooking because as a student in Vienna he missed his mother's food, but then realised that 'would you like to come and see my cannelloni' was a rather effective chat up line...! The wag.

Carluccio began with a traditional Tuscan dish of Pappa al Pomodoro - essentially tomato and bread soup. The recipe couldn't be simpler: gently sautee off a few cloves of garlic in plenty of very good olive oil and fresh basil before adding Cirio Passata and chunks of thick, toasted bread rubbed with garlic and torn up. Leave to simmer low and slow for 20-50 minutes, adding more water if you prefer. Finish with plenty of salt, pepper and even more basil and olive oil - it's usually served cold.

It tasted like heaven, and is a soup you could enjoy even at the height of summer as it's so fresh and full of sweet tomatoey flavours. As a side note - Carluccio said you should never add sugar to tomatoes (something I'm definitely guilty of), as if the tomato needs sweetening then it's not ripe enough and you shouldn't be using anyway - hence why it's worth shelling out a bit extra for Cirio.

Next, Carluccio made Cozze all Tarantina - mussels served Taranto style. Again, you could make this dish blindfolded it's so easy: simply tip a can of Cirio tomatoes into a large pan with mussels, a dash of white wine and prodigious amounts of torn basil. The entire dish took minutes to make and you would never know from the taste.

Thank you Cirio and Carluccio for such a fantastic opportunity. I'm going to make both these dishes immediately.

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