Eric Chavot swears on Saturday Kitchen – I get traffic!

The Capital Hotel’s Eric Chavot played a blinder on last weekend’s Saturday Kitchen. He was amusing, watchable and enigmatic, and the dish he created looked fab. Shame he let slip the f-word towards the end of the show and thus gave the Daily Mail free rein to vilify him …

My terribly clever WordPress dashboard registered a healthy dollop of traffic around Eric’s name after the programme, which spurred me to explore the chefs and cookery writers delivering the best footfall for me on this blog. So, pop pickers, here is my top ten of Lewis blog foodies. Dah Dah, da-da Dah, der der der, der der der, Dah Dah, da-da Dah … etc.

But what does this tell me about the relative pulling power of food stars, and the nature of chefdom, apart from the fact that I should clearly cook a dish from Marcella’s classical Italian repertoire every night if I want to grow my audience?

First, isn’t it interesting that two of the darlings of the food scene, Fergus and Alain, are way off the pace? Both are great chefs, and Alain occupies a place in the stratosphere of chef legends; but clearly their entrails and extravagance haven’t struck a chord with my visitors. Could it be that few domestic fridges harbour foie gras or trotters?

Second, how revealing that the top three should be booktastic, all, Madhur and Marcella having forged long and glittering literary careers from producing standard texts, Jun having only weeks ago brought out a popular new tome, Simple to Sensattional?

The message is that producing books of recipes that are attainable, tasty and rooted in a specific regional cuisine ensures a loyal following. In years to come, Jun (a really nice fellow) might have built up such a canon or work. Meanwhile, I would expect his name to be searched on less and less in the coming weeks, as more of his peers bring out new books. Ah, but “Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate”.

[The post was brought to you by Emily Dickinson and WordPress]

Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese

celery and carrotsSunday’s supper was Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese from Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking. Since Susie had another Sunday shift, I was free to prepare it early in the afternoon to the strains of 5 Live’s football commentary. I know I should get out more, enjoy the sun, maybe even go for a walk, on Sundays; but I find I’m at my most relaxed at the moment, when I’m in my basement kitchen chopping vegetables and generally pottering about. Here are a few things I learnt from making this rich, comforting and delicious dish:

  • Interestingly, there was no garlic in it.
  • The recipe called for far more chopped carrots and celery than I ever would have imagined.
  • Adding 250ml of full-fat milk realy softened the meat and sweetened the dish.
  • White wine, not read, was added.
  • In total, I reckon it cooked for four hours, on the lowest heat I could manage without the gas going out.
  • Next time I shall cut the carrots and celery finer – they looked chunky and unappealing (hence the choice of an ingredient pic above!)
  • I think it could also stand more nutmeg than Marcella recommends.

A rogue onion hampers Hazan perfection …

tomato-sauceHere’s the Marcella Hazan tomato sauce I blogged about making yesterday. I was reasonably pleased with it, if not over the moon: it didn’t have quite the same wonderful sweetness present the last time I made it. Perhaps the onion I used wasn’t up to the job?  I guess I could have put more butter in, though I do need to beware my expanding waistline …

Here’s the finished article.

marcellas-tomato-pasta-sauce

Surrey sun calls for a Mediterranean Marcella Hazan supper

tomatoTomato sauce for pasta? It’s all about garlic, isn’t it? Not necessarily. Marcella Hazan’s basic tomato sauce is a heady brew that’s achieved by chucking handfuls of skinned and chopped fresh tomatoes into a pan with oodles of butter, slicing an onion in half and submerging them to boil away in the mix. The onion is fished out and discarded after 45 minutes or so. Turned into pasta, the resulting sauce will blow your mind. I’ll show you what it looks like later; meanwhile, I can’t better Orangette’s description of the sauce’s flavour:

It tastes pure: rich, round, and deeply reassuring, like tomato sauce is supposed to taste. The first words that spring to mind, actually, are va-va-voom, which are hardly words at all, really, and are probably better suited to a young Sophia Loren, but still, I mean it: this is a show-stopping, voluptuous sauce. The butter bolsters the sweetness of the tomatoes and rounds off their acidic edges, while the onion – which is halved, simmered slowly in the sauce, and then discarded – lends just a subtle, savory backdrop.

Risotto with porcini mushrooms

finished-risotto

So: I used the Marcella Hazan recipe for porcini risotto, but also fried some chopped portobello mushrooms in olive oil and added them at the same time as the porcinis. I’m not sure I could particularly taste the portobellos as distinct from the other flavours present, but they certainly did the dish no harm. I also used a red onion, which was all I had to hand.

I’ve yet to get my head around how to make proper stock, so I took Marcella’s advice and diluted some concentrated beef consomme (I think I’d shift the ratio more towards the consomme next time …) Whenever I’ve made risotto in the past, I’ve tended to add stock as soon as the rice is beginning to look a little glue-y. Marcella says you mustn’t add further liquid until the previous slug has disappeared. She also says you must never stop stirring, and tells you frequently to scrape the bottom of the pot completely clean to stop the rice from sticking.

The dish worked well. Nice and mushroom-y, if not the taste sensation I had hoped it might be. As usual, I think I slightly undersalted the finished meal. To me – and Susie – the risotto would have benefited from some herbs, either during the cooking or at the end.

On the plus side, the parmesan I threw in at the end helped create a really rich, satisfying creaminess that, to my inexpert palate, was quite authentic; and the nob of butter that finished the dish gave it a lovely glossy glaze.  

risotto close-up

Taking risotto advice from Jun Tanaka and Marcella Hazan …

porcini mushroomsI’m making mushroom risotto tonight. Susie reckons I make a pretty nifty risotto, but I’m not sure I’ve mastered the art. I’ve tried all sorts of recipes: it’s that “glue-y yet liquid” balance I struggle with. Tonight I’m going to follow a Marcella Hazan porcini mushroom risotto recipe. I’m also going to check out a few other recipes, including one in the new Jun Tanaka book, Simple to Sensational, for wild mushroom risotto. Thing is, Susie has a punnet of mushrooms that need using up, and I want to incorporate them into the dish. Should I fry the mushrooms first? Or simply stir them into the rice as it is cooking? Lordie, I don’t know.