big chefs don't cry...

.. but, at the tender age of fourty**** they can still be moved by a simple dish of agnolotti del plin in brodo.

it all started with a trip to london for a meeting with a possible client, cannily set up by yours truly in a wonderful coffee shop just by Borough Market where - incidentally - they serve a cappuccino much better than any you can have in Italy..
what i didn't plan for though was the event of my train not being late.

that left 45 minutes to spend, me and my debit cards, wandering through the sights, flavours, smells and temptations of the market.
i could already figure my bank manager with its (they are not human, are they?) hand hovering on the red button..

i emerged relatively unscathed: no way i could let hand dived scallops or rare cheeses or hand made chocolates rest in my bag for hours but then i could not resist gastronomica's shop and stand. i bought enough lardo to clog my arteries with a thick layer of joy and the fantastically rare agnolotti del plin.

these are a kind of tiny ravioli, handmade in a very limited area of Piedmont. you can find some kind of recipe in a link above but don't bother with it: there is no point in trying and replicate a flavour deeply rooted in the specific ingredients of a small area of a different country.. not to mention the skill in pinching the little bu***ers close. agnolotti del plin have a mytical status and I have had them in the past only once, at a meal organized by Slow Food's founder Carlo Petrini (agnolotti and Slow Food come from the same part of the world..not a coincidence).

once home i prepared a vegetable stock (yes with marigold) then genius struck me as it often does.. :-) : i added a few slices of preserved black truffle. they weren't enough to give a truffle-y flavour to it but yet more than enough to lift its aroma to completely different -higher- ground.
and the combination with the agnolotti was absolutely magical. big chefs don't cry but that dish really moved me deeply. i slurped it to the last drop (see above) and zoe did it too. i have the proof:


the ultimate carbonara

authentic carbonara

i recently discovered with my great surprise a most fantastic italian food blog discussing with erudition and humour about as different subjects as molecular gastronomy and carbonara.

dario, the author, provided me with bucketloads of food for thought, inspiration and some photos that i am going to shamelessly ...erm..."borrow" for this post.

1. what are the origins of carbonara?

the quick answer is: nobody seems to know.
many think it came from loggers who went to make coal (carbone) on the mountains of central Italy bringing only a pasta, eggs, pancetta and pepper.. but there are absolutely no written traces of a dish called "carbonara" anytime before WW2. hence the theory that carbonara was invented by some starving roman citizen who got creative with bacon and powdered eggs distributed by allied troops.. (if that was true a lot of dodgy italian restaurants could rightly claim they make the original carbonara... :-( )

2.how to make a perfect carbonara

this is guanciale, or cured pork cheek, thicker and tastier than pancetta or bacon. it should be available in some authentic italian delis but if you can't find it you can always make your own. alternatively some decent pancetta or bacon will do but then you'll have to downgrade your carbonara from "ultimate" to "decent". warning! pre-sliced bacon is a big no-no. buy it in one 1cm thick piece from your butcher and make your own cubes/sticks.

gently fry the diced guanciale in a non stick pan until the fat gets translucent and the (traces of) meat brown slightly. you won't need to add anything to the pan: you don't need either more fat or more flavour so put away that garlic and - god forbid!- that onion.

by now your pan of salted water is boiling so put the spaghetti in, stir and move on to the next step.

you will need an egg yolk per person in a bowl large enough to later contain the cooked pasta. add your grated cheese - pecorino and/or parmesan- and mix the two together along with a generous amount of black pepper.

now the make-or-break stage.
it is up to the heat of the pasta to cook the egg to just the right degree of creaminess: not enough gives you a runny mess, too much a not-so-nice omelet...

the best results are obtained by incorporating some of the cooking water: I drain the pasta as usual but without the extra shaking of the colander, dario suggests to retrieve the pasta from the pan with a fork.

add the fried guanciale to the pasta and egg mixture and stir well to ensure an even distribution of the condiment and the guanciale cubes.
as if...
twenty five years of experience have taught me that whatever your efforts and your skill there will be always a considerable amount of extra guanciale at the bottom of the mixing bowl and this is the reason why you should serve yourself last...

go on.. you know you deserve it..

3. cream? what cream??


chicken run

my first proper post in three years... and it's not even a proper post:

after the recent flurry of celebrity chef campaigning on all things chicken, this non-celebrity-cook is resuming three very old but still relevant posts on the subject.


the endless chicken part 1

originally posted : 28/01/2004

lesson i learned: do not trust chicken that comes without qualifiers.

believe me, i want nothing to do with what is sold as "chicken" in this country.

the previous statement is obviously untrue: when i feel lazy i am keen to buy a dubious chicken provided that somebody spit-roasted it for me. when i feel dirty i treat myself to a kebab.

i don't let these slight incongruences distract me from the right way, so in my household chicken is a rare treat because good free-range-organic -not-necessarily-corn-fed-rare-breed chicken --(ehi! a LOT of qualifiers)-- is expensive.

let's say £6 to £8 per kilo --(imperial measures are banned in this blog)-- or £12 to £16 per bird.

money well spent: i won't fill our bodies with unwanted antibiotics and those two kilos will go a loooong way.

day one:
the oven is getting hot, the chicken is out, potatoes are cut. everything is well coated with olive oil and two halves of a nice lemon sit snugly in the birds' bum. a few garlic cloves.
in goes the roast tin and i'm off to play with isabella while zoe is having one of her long baths.

after 90 minutes isabella is sleeping in her cot --she is going to school now!!!--, zoe is almost out of the tub and the chicken is ready.

a nice green salad, a glass of wine... i am happy.

coming up: the endless chicken parts two, three and four (!!!)

the endless chicken part 1

originally posted : 29/01/2004

after the feast of the day before i'm still left with 800g of top quality free-range-organic-not-necessarily-corn-fed-rare-breed chicken meat and a nice well scraped carcass.
i eat all the brown bits from the bottom of the carcass on the spot, and a bit of skin too, sprinkled with sea salt flakes... is there anything better?? the answer is yes but not now.
so, after the feast of the day before i'm still left with 730g of... well, you know what.

half the meat goes into a salad with a grated carrot and two grated courgettes. i had bought the courgettes for isabella but even if organic, they are so out of season that i decide against feeding her those. lunch is sorted with a bit of cous cous on the side.

the carcass, with all the bones saved from the night before, goes into my beloved le creuset oval cast iron pot to which i add the following:
- a large onion, peeled and cut in half;
- a root of galangal, cut in half lenghtways;
- several bay leaves;
- a generous handful of sze-chuan peppercorns;
- three stalks of lemongrass, cut in half lenghtways;
- enough cold water to fill the pot.

i clarify the stock then use it to make a wrong zuppa pavese.
a zuppa pavese (soup from the city of Pavia) is very easy to get right, if you only break a fresh egg on top a slice of toasted bread (farmhouse, not prepackaged loaf!!) which sits at the bottom of a deep bowl, top it with grated parmesan and pour hot good stock on the lot.
i have no bread left and decide against parmesan this time so to give it some extra substance i add a bit of the chicken meat and some thinly sliced courgettes.

right or wrong, when the stock is good - and boy, this is amazing! -a zuppa pavese is at the top of the comfort food list.

there's still more than half of a brest left. i'll have it tomorrow in a sandwich (but i have to remember to go and buy some decent bread... not easy in brighton).

bottom line: four great meals from a chicken and i still have a couple of liters of stock to flavour my cooking.

endless or what?

what do we talk about when we talk about chicken..

originally posted : 12/04/2004

to know more, and eat less, go here.


links to learn more:

chicken out
fowl dinners
and since you asked:
take the red pill...