I recently had the fortunate experience of teaching Stratford Chefs School students as the Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer in Residence. Their project was to develop and write a recipe and then make a video. Not one of the 66 students had ever made a video before, but their work was humorous and smart. I wanted to share a few of the best recipes, but I have so many good ones that I will continue to share them as the seasons change.
“Perfectly cooked Arborio rice, suspended in a creamy sauce consisting of flavourful meat stock and butter is a tough combination to beat,” says James Toenders, a first-year student. “That is, unless you need to avoid animal byproducts.”
As his girlfriend is a vegan, he had to get creative. “It’s a common misconception that vegan food isn’t flavourful. All of the richness and flavour of butter, cream and meat can be achieved using alternatives,” he says. He uses vegan Earth Balance or Becel to replace the butter and enriches the packaged vegetable broth by simmering it with hearty dried mushrooms.
There is plenty of bad pad Thai out there – many versions are too sweet or ketchupy. A true pad Thai, however, is a thing of beauty – and can even be made at home. David Thompson could be the most famous non-Thai Thai chef in the world and I was lucky enough to visit his restaurant in Australia. His version of the stir-fried noodles bore no resemblance to any I’d tasted before. It was salty, sour and slightly sweet. Thompson’s credo is that the diner should finish the dish by adding more lime, fish sauce or chilies as they desire. The following is his recipe, adapted for the home kitchen. You will never go back to a sickly, sticky version again.
Tamarind is sold in several forms. The tamarind concentrate I use for this recipe needs to be cut with double the amount warm water. Salted pickled radish is available at Asian stores in packages, but you can make your own by adding 1 tbsp salt and 2 tbsp sugar to 1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish. Leave for 4 hours, then drain and chop.
Simplicity and freshness are the keys to creating interesting pasta dishes. Pasta shapes are important, too. The length, curves and texture of the pasta should dictate the kind and size of ingredients used. The dome-shaped orecchiette used in this dish are the perfect receptacles for the zucchini balls and capers, which would slide off long pasta.
In Italy, cheese is traditionally never used in seafood dishes, but times are changing – when I was last in Rome, cheese was offered with my shrimp pasta, probably an accommodation for American tourists. I personally avoid cheese on seafood. Butter, on the other hand, is used often in the Emilia-Romagna area for pasta dishes and smooths out the flavour of fish and shellfish.
Fried capers, which look like little flowers, are a trendy ingredient right now. Don’t take them out of the oil too early as they become soggy – you want them to have a nice crispness. As for fried basil leaves, they look like green stained glass, which ramps up the presentation of this dish.
This dish was inspired by a Spanish rice, lobster and truffle dish I tasted recently. Since truffles are very hard to come by, I substituted them for a drop of truffle oil. The more expensive truffle oil is, the better it tastes, so don’t use an imitation – it is better to omit the oil entirely. If you do come across Australian truffles, shave them over top. I found excellent vacuum-packed frozen lobster from a Nova Scotia brand called Naked Lobster, which is carried at several supermarkets and some fish shops. It worked perfectly for this recipe but you could also use shrimp if you prefer them to lobster. Try to find Spanish rice, which is a medium-grain rice, otherwise Arborio will work (though the texture will be slightly different). Salmorreta is a slightly spicy Spanish sauce typically served on the side of rice and chicken dishes. While the Spanish would use Nora peppers, I substituted them for long red ones that are readily available.
This recipe is inspired by a dinner I enjoyed at Charlie Palmer’s restaurant, Burritt Room + Tavern, in San Francisco. Based on the old style of meat-and-drink-heavy establishments that dotted San Fran in another era, it serves impressive cocktails and fun, trendy food. This take on the pasta I ate there is a similar – but much more sophisticated – version of macaroni and cheese. It’s topped with crunchy bread crumbs and chili oil (you can make your own or buy the Italian version) that balances all the flavours. The sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated, but you might have to add a little extra cream if it’s too thick.
Fregola is a Sardinian pasta rolled into little balls, dried and then toasted, which gives it its distinctive nutty flavour. It is a perfect match in soups, mixed with seafood, or made like a risotto. Very fashionable at the moment, the pasta can be readily found at Italian and up-market grocery stores. Israeli couscous makes a good alternative.