As my regular readers will know, saying I’m not much of a cook is an understatement; I have already been home more than a week and so far I’ve cooked scrambled eggs. Once.
I have also whinged about the lack of M&S delicious pre-made salads and meals about one thousand times while wandering around Woolworths in a jetlag-induced stupor.
So, with cooking not my forte, it’s little wonder I rarely entertain; on those rare occasions when I do, I spend the whole time on the edge of my seat ready to apologise for whatever disaster I fear I’ve served up.
But that’s about to change, thanks to two crash courses in cooking at chef Jamie Oliver’s Recipease in London.
Located just a hop, skip and a jump (literally, it’s across the road) from Notting Hill Underground Station is the newest offering from the Naked Chef—a cooking school, cafe and shop all rolled into one that’s luring tourists and locals alike.
First opened in Clapham (south London) four years ago, Recipease is an integral part of Oliver’s desire to share the art of cooking with the world.
“It’s just us trying to start a movement where everybody passes on a bit of cooking knowledge. We estimate that approximately one person can potentially affect 180 others very quickly so we’re just trying to spread that word.”
Oliver said he was “trying to empower people who are nervous about cooking or are already good at cooking to have a go”.
Well, in me he found his target market. Nervous? Check!
My first lesson—The Ultimate Risotto Class—promised to teach us the basics of how to master this Italian ‘fast food’; from choosing the right rice to the importance of stock.
(Scroll to the bottom of this post for Jamie’s recipe for Risotto Blanco.)
I picked up tips including:
- Choose an Italian rice with a high starch content to ensure a perfectly creamy consistency (JO recommends either Carnaroli and Vialone nano but other risotto rice such as Arborio, Roma and Baldo will also work with varying end results)
Your stock must always be boiling– have it twice as hot has your risotto pan which is always on high
If you split a piece of rice on the back of a wooden spoon, it will split into only three pieces when it’s cooked (if it breaks into four, it needs longer in the pot)
When you have finished cooking, place a plate on top of your saucepan and leave the risotto to rest for a couple of minutes
- When adding soft herbs, do so at the ‘rest’ stage as you don’t want them to cook and also add a dollop of butter before the ‘rest’ stage for shine
- Taste the rice grains as you cook (check for ‘al dente’ rice – not a chalky texture) this will help you judge when your rice is correct and ready to serve
- If you don’t fully cook the rice, you can use it to make arancini balls (fried risotto balls … yum!)
- You can also freeze risotto when it’s not quite finished cooking and then finish it off when you’re ready to eat!
And the best part was when we’d finished our lesson, we were able to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy the fruits of our labour!
Having enjoyed my first class so much, I booked Ross and I in for a lesson in Mexican Street Food which involved making soft corn tortillas with three toppings: sticky smoked chipotle chicken, sautéed spinach with herbs and feta cheese, and a spicy roasted corn salsa.
We also made Oliver’s smashed guacamole and a chunky tomato salsa to have on the side.
We learnt that it’s easy to give our dishes loads of flavour simply by packing them full of lovely fresh herbs and spices like thyme, chilli, garlic and coriander rather than adding artificial preservatives, flavourings or colourings.
The finished product was an explosion of colour and flavour.
100ml olive oil
1 large white onion
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery
6 sticks fresh thyme – tied in a bundle
400gm risotto rice
150ml white wine
2 litres vegetable stock
100gm Parmesan cheese
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring the stock to the boil and taste it, ensure it has loads of flavour
2. Finely dice the onions, garlic and celery as fine as you can get them. Heat the oil in a wide shallow pan, add in the sofrito (diced vegetables) and the whole thyme bundle and cook slowly on a low-medium heat for about 20 minutes without colour until the mixture is soft and sweet. Turn up the heat and caramelise just a little.
3. Add in the rice and coat really well in the vegetable mixture stirring constantly. Add in the white wine and reduce by ¾, stirring constantly, use a wine you like to drink.
4. Add in 1 large ladle of stock and stir, reduce the liquid by ½, you will see that the starch immediately starts to come out.Add in 1 more ladle of stock, reduce by ½ again. Try not to add the next ladle until the rice has absorbed the liquid. (It is at this stage you can add your seasonal ingredients.)
5. Continue adding stock until you have al dente rice, or try to take 1 grain and rub it on a wooden board if it breaks into 3 pieces it is ready (4 or more pieces means it needs more cooking).
6. Remove from the heat and add in the butter and the cheese, shake the pan and stir at the same time really fast to whip up the risotto.
7. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish using seasonal ingredients.