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PREVIEW: Grana Padano Week Menu at L’Anima (and a recipe for fabulous cheese puffs)

Davide Oldani & Francesco Mazzei at L'Anima in London

Davide Oldani & Francesco Mazzei at L’Anima in London

To celebrate Grana Padano week, Davide Oldani of michelin starred Restaurant D’O in Milan has teamed up with Francesco Mazzei of L’Anima in London. They are cooking a special menu featuring the three ages of grana padano cheese until just the 12th of July (which is tomorrow! Be quick).

Davide’s cooking is strictly seasonal, using simple and what were once regarded as peasant ingredients, which he raises to new heights. Francesco’s cooking is terrific, informed by his native Calabria, it is one of the finest Italian restaurants in London, so you shouldn’t need much of an excuse to get down there.

home cured hake with candied figs, tomato emulsion, grana  padano riserva crisps & tarragon £

Home cured hake with candied figs, tomato emulsion, grana
padano riserva crisps & tarragon – this was actually quite a dense dish, the tomato emulsion giving the hake a little brightness, it would be a great lunch on its own

roasted gnocchi with 18th months old grana padano sauce, romano lettuce & spicy sultanas

Roasted gnocchi with 18th months old grana padano sauce, romano lettuce & spicy sultanas – the gnocchi were so light, and crisped gently served with a really light sauce made from cheese and milk, roast lettuce and the sultanas were infused with some chilli, which gave the dish a little kick

charcoal diver scallops with n’duja, grana padano riserva & crispy senise peppers

Charcoal diver scallops with n’duja, grana padano riserva & crispy senise peppers – the scallops were very lightly cooked with n’duja salsa verde on top. Near perfection. I have asked for the recipe so fingers crossed. 

Not all of you are in London, so I am going to share one of Francesco’s terrific recipes with you too for Nutmeg & Grana Padano Cheese Puffs. They are super light and very cheesy (of course). The sweet nuttiness and richness of the mature grana padano is terrific in these. I think perfect for a Friday night at home in front of the TV with a glass (or two) of red wine.

Grana Padano and Nutmeg Cheese Puffs

Grana Padano and Nutmeg Cheese Puffs

RECIPE: Grana Padano and Nutmeg Cheese Puffs

Makes 100 (small) pieces (you may want to reduce it if you live alone!)

Ingredients

400g Milk
200g Unsalted butter
9g Salt (a generous pinch, if you don’t have a scale that measures this precisely, add to taste)
200g Flour
120g Grated Grana Padano, aged for 20 Months
350g Eggs
Black pepper
2g Nutmeg (if you don’t have a scale that measures this precisely, just grate it fresh to taste)
Sunflower Oil

Method:

Put the milk, butter, and salt into a pan.

Bring to boil until the butter is melted.

Add the flour and stir using a wooden spoon on a low heat until the mixture doesn’t stick on the bottom of the pan.

Add the Grana Padano and stir for one more minute. Remove from heat. Put the mixture into a mixing bowl and add the eggs (one by one) until the mixture is nice and smooth. Add the black pepper and nutmeg to taste. Let the mixture cool and form the dough into small round parcels.

Fry the parcels in hot sunflower oil (160/165°C) until they become golden in colour.

Dust with Grana Padano Cheese and serve.

Disclosure: I dined as a guest of grana padano, however, I have eaten at L’Anima many times, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Francesco is a terrific chef, I really don’t understand why Michelin have overlooked him.

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In the kitchen at L’Anima with Francesco Mazzei: Linguine Vongole

Vongole at L'Anima

I was very excited, and also a little hot and bothered. I had to be in Liverpool St at 5pm, but I didn’t finish work until 5.30pm, and I work an hour away. Eish! What to do?! Thankfully, Francesco and his team were patient and flexible, and unfazed when I burst through the door, earlier than I thought possible, but later than arranged, red and frizzy and ready for vongole.

Vongole? What’s that? It’s one of the best Italian culinary offerings, and when nestled with linguine, a real treat. Fresh and lively, salty and sweet, fruity and toothsome, you can’t beat it.

I’ve cooked this at home, but not for a while. It’s one of those things that has to be done right, great vongole from an even better fishmonger, great pasta and some time. That’s all. Like anything else, there are ways to do it to do it and to do it right you need to adhere to the rules, but really it’s not that complicated, and once you know the steps, it’s utterly achievable. It’s a weeknight dish should you choose it to be one or a perfect quick weekend treat.

Vongole at L'Anima

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites; it’s so fresh and full of flavour. Loaded with character and variety, how could you not love it? I love the attention to detail, the adherence to quality and the sociable nature of it all. I love that everyone is confident about food, we should be here too. Everyone has a secret family recipe, knows local wines and heartily recommends favourites. They want to take you to their favourite places, and share their culinary heritage, for they are very proud of it, and so they should be. So, I wasn’t surprised when Francesco seemed to represent all of these qualities, fizzing with enthusiasm and passion, and ready to share his knowledge.

L’Anima is a lovely space, airy and bright, perhaps leaning on stark, but very stylish. We started at the bar with some snacks and a prosecco, and then progressed to the kitchen, which was stacked with food and chefs, and while busy-busy, it was very calm. Waiting by one of the sinks were enormous and very fresh clams, that had been rinsed to rid them of any sand that they had retained from the sea bed, they were ready to become vongole.

Vongole at L'Anima

Francesco whizzed through the recipe, it really is very quick. Patient and attentive, occasionally making reference to how red I was, with a chuckle. I was at pains to explain that I am Irish and can’t cope with extremes of anything – hot or cold. Ireland is mild and temperate, and this is what my body demands, but rarely receives. So, there you go! I am doomed to have a big red face in warm environments. But that’s ok.

Vongole at L'Anima

The vongole had already been cleaned and were gleaming and ready for action. Using a bronze cut linguine, Francesco starts the dish with a light south Italian olive oil, that won’t over power the clams. The pasta is put on, and some garlic slices and chilli are gently fried. The vongole are added shortly after with a glass of white wine, and cooked gently until they start to open. The pasta is added with some of it’s starchy cooking water, creating an emulsion with the vongole sauce as it is stirred. The pasta looks to be about half cooked at this stage, and Francesco stirs it, until it it’s al dente and nestled is a beautiful creamy sauce. I love this technique of cooking pasta by absorption, a technique that delivers a much superior pasta, and costs nothing but time and a littler exertion. Not unlike the creaminess that you get from risotto rice, when you give it all of that care and attention.

The dish is finished with a handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and is ready to eat.  We had a taste, and I was in heaven.

Vongole at L'Anima

I was loathe to leave the kitchen and that luscious linguine behind, but Francesco assured me that I would have some more soon, over dinner in the private room, where 8 of us gathered and participated in a feast.

Vongole at L'Anima

A gorgeous starter of muscles cooked in a josper oven, a powerful charcoal oven, just briefly, for a minute or so until they popped open. They retained their memory of the sea, in those last drops of sea water that they had held onto from when they were caught. These were superb, a real highlight, tasting of fire and water with embers from the josper oven and sea water, with a meaty mussel embracing it in the middle, and some delicious n’duja sausage with some fennel seeds.

Vongole at L'Anima

Our linguine vongole escapades were next. Three different types, all perfectly executed, although one fusion one, while lovely, was not to my taste. I prefer the more familiar rustic Italian flavours of garlic, chilli and tomato. We had a lovely wine with the linguine, a delicious Soave, so good, I proclaimed that it was worth going that night to discover that wine alone.

Vongole at L'Anima

We finished with a frozen chocolate truffle. An icy large truffle with chocolate sauce oozing out of the middle. Delicious. I know that word is over used but I don’t care, because that’s what it was.

And there you have it. A perfect evening. Linguine vongole is on the bar menu at L’Anima, it’s well worth a try with that glorious Soave. Francesco Mazzei is certainly one to watch and I look forward to trying L’Anima again.

I will make this dish soon and post the recipe. Give it a go, there or at home. You’ll be very happy with yourself.

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January in food and frolics: the roundup

It seemed like January was never-ending, truly a bottomless pit of rushing to work while skidding on ice and low heavy skies. Skies that were so heavy, I felt like chicken licken, and wanted to roar to the world “The sky is falling in!”.

But then, it was gone. Gone! Just like that. And suddenly it was February. How can that be? To stay so long, then leave so quickly. My sense of time is distorted, and now what do I do that I no longer have January to blame for everything?

As much as I proclaimed the misery of it all, the heart wrenching, grey boredom that January cruelly bestows on me, there were some culinary moments that may make my best of 2010. Some really fun and utterly delicious adventures. An evening where I was demolished not by January, but by vodka and my own lack of sense, some time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei, a Bisol cookoff, a very good pie crafted by my own fair hands, and a new way with pork, for me at least.

How can this be? You’ve only read of the pork. COUGH. Like I said, I blame January. Be patient with me, I promise to give you the details soon. For now, here’s my summary.

Vongole at L'Anima

January started with an evening that I had been waiting for, for some time. The vongole evening at L’Anima, where I would get a chance to spend time with Francesco Mazzei in his kitchen, where he would demonstrate his technique for cooking linguine vongole (linguine with clams). It was a lovely experience. Francesco is a lovely guy, and very knowledgable. L’Anima is a lovely place too, with a kitchen that is enviable, I watched every beautiful pot and pan, envied their piles of vongole, and watched with glee as he took us through it, step by step.

Vongole at L'Anima

The kitchen was hot, I was beetroot red, which and impending video will testify for me. It was a treat though, and I enjoyed watching him cooking the linguine by absorption, a great technique for extruding the creaminess of the pasta without adding dairy by adding water or stock slowly and stirring, not too unlike making a creamy risotto. I do this at home all the time, the end result demands it. I should really blog about that soon too, shouldn’t I?

Vongole at L'Anima
The cooking was followed by a dinner, themed on vongole and shellfish in a luxurious private room at the restaurant. The vongole was stand out, as was the mussel starter, the mussels had been cooked in a Josper charcoal oven for only a minute until they popped open revealing a tender meaty interior, bathing in some salty sea water that the mussel had retained when it closed its shell for that last time by the sea, before it ended up in the L’Anima kitchen. We also had a wine that I loved, it was worth going for that alone, San Michele Soave Classico, perfect with the vongole, and delicious to drink on its own. I found it online circling a bargainous £12 mark. I will be stocking up on it soon.

Vongole at L'Anima

From one lovely wine to another, the next adventure was the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Cook-Off at Bibendum Wines, where three finalists that had entered the competition on this blog, cooked furiously and presented their dishes to be judged by Roberto of Bisol, Rupert of Trinity and Gal of Bibendum Wine. All entrants were excellent, a crisp and clean sea trout dish from Ailbhe; a creamy, rich and indulgent pork dish from Dan and the winning entry, a warm Winter pheasant salad from Danny. It was great fun, and we decamped to the pub after where the two Irish lasses appeared to overwhelm those Essex geezers. It seemed they could not keep up with our chatter and were mildly amused by it all. As were we!

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Some time at home followed with a Moro recipe, Lomo Con Leche, pork cooked in milk with cinnamon and bay to you and I. Delicious it was, but could do with a few tweaks I think. I look forward to experimenting.

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

Brunch baked eggs became a Sunday feature, well eggs en cocotte this time. Eggs cosied in individual ramekins sitting on a cushion of fried bacon, leak and shallots, with a cream and gruyere topping, and baked in a bain marie. Sounds complex and fussy, but they’re quick easy and wickedly indulgent. Take that, January!

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Pigs (plural) was about to feature in a very big way. Starting with a fantastic Pig Masterclass and wine dinner at Trinity, where I got to try some great Alsace wines from small producer Trimbach. Jean Trimbach talked us through them, and we had matched food from Trinity, including their fantastic trotter dish, more on that soon.

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St John Restaurant, famed for it’s offaly goodness, was next on the menu. A group of us were trying the suckling pig. I’d always wanted to try this so was quite excited. The suckling pig was tender, moist and full of flavour. I even got to try a bit of the tongue which had a dense texture and intense piggy flavour. Starters of bone marrow and crab were perfect. I am not really a big fan of the desserts chosen, so I didn’t pay much attention to these. All in all, a successful food adventure, even with a few problems with slow service.

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A Sunday indoors was perfect with a roast loin of pork with spiced apple sauce.

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The annual Bibendum tasting at the Saatchi Gallery was immense as always, with fantastic wines. It was lovely to see Alice of Bruno Paillard and the Chapel Down Crew again. It was a great day.

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We’ve clearly headed from the pig section to the alcohol section. I had a lovely evening at Thorsten of the Wine Rambler‘s house, sampling some German wines with food. We had a really interesting German Syrah from Pfalz (Knipser 2003). I also discovered the delights of chocolate baklava which I bought for dessert from a local baklava salon.

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An exciting vintage vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard managed to be both the high and low point of the month. High point: wonderful food, lovely hosts and superb vodka. Low point: there should be a heigh requirement, noone my height can drink that much vodka, be coherent and manage a normal day the day after. The food was great, lots of Russian food that I hadn’t had before, including a superb ox tongue in aspic, which was elegant and graceful, a fantastic egg mayo with anchovies, some caviar with blinis, delicious creamy lardo, and some standout meaty dumplings which were rich, dense and creamy. There was lots more which I’ll write about in more detail soon. The vodka was very good indeed, all Russian and served at -18 degrees.

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And that was it. I think we defeated January. Ka-pow!

Thanks for reading, as always :)