I sleep with a stack of cookbooks on my bed. Is that a little bit strange? Right now I’m curled up with Alton Brown, Heston Blumenthal, Rocco Dispirito, and a new printed buddy. Three Gordon Ramsays came to visit last year, but they had to go back home.
This past weekend I wandered into a random second-hand shop with a friend and snagged a copy of Jamie’s Italy (by Jamie Oliver) for a lovely price. His endearing little stories, contagious energy, and simple, beautiful recipes are easy motivation to get into the kitchen, so this book was a perfect combination of my favourite food and one of my favourite chefs!
In the introduction, he wrote about his hope of one day moving to Italy, because he feels like he belongs there, as in he feels Italian, which is a huge relief to me! I have always felt the same way and thought I might have been going crazy, but if wanting to cook and eat fresh, home-made, delicious food in a beautiful, rustic village where I can pick olives and lemons means that I’m crazy, then so be it. Singing my lungs out, riding a Vespa, and wearing 1950’s-style dresses, scarves, hats, and gloves must be included, though. Sanity doesn’t come cheap, it’s a package deal!
Sometimes I think we should all be a little more Italian. Except maybe argue a little less and drive a little safer because Mum was just in Venice and said that everyone is crazy (leading me to think that I’d fit in perfectly).
One of the first things that Chef Tony talked to us about in school was patience (pazienza). You will never hear this word in a kitchen, where a lot of people in kitchens are eager, impatient go-getters, or have to speed along because guests are waiting, but to be honest, while you have to work efficiently, finding a balance can be hard and some of the best food is the food that takes a long time to prepare or cook. Sweet, gently simmered tomato sauce, melt-in-your-mouth braised oxtails in coconut curry, pillowy cakes that climb to amazing heights in the oven and scent your house with vanilla, tangy meyer lemon marmalade with the crop that you waited all summer for…
I cooked dinner at a friend’s house yesterday, and her husband asked if risotto could be on the menu. Of course! I only made it once in school and didn’t have my recipe binder handy, so we picked up low-sodium chicken stock and a box of arborio rice, I glanced at the box, then went about and did my thing.
It turned out wonderfully. The rice was tender with a little bit of bite in the middle, the onions and carrots were golden and sweet, the parmesan cheese was creamy and sharp. The extra servings didn’t last very long.
“This is perfect! Risotto is one of the hardest things to cook!” one diner commented.
“Thank you! It is?”
I see people muck it up on Hell’s Kitchen all the time, and know that a few friends have had bad luck when choosing it at a restaurant (too hard, too mushy, too salty!), but didn’t think it was a big issue. Every now and then I did look to the clock , but mostly looked at the rice and gave it what it wanted. More stock? More time? More cheese? You are my boss.
Maybe what the problem is, is that people are rushing, not tasting and looking and smelling and thinking, which is what food is all about. Some chefs will fire their cooks for not tasting the food that they cook often enough, because if you don’t taste what you cook, how do you know if it’s done, or if it’s even any good?
You don’t! And that’s a problem when margins and names are on the line. And at home, would you ever serve bad food to a grandma who spent ages to lovingly prepare meals for you? That’s a creative way to get your name removed from a written will if I ever heard of one. Kidding!
Allowing yourself to have patience, and the attentiveness that comes with it, is one of your best tools for learning, with food, and with life or you will never be able to progress healthily, or enjoy things for that matter. It’s okay to be always looking ahead and planning ahead, but keep in mind that sometimes you have to be willing to wait because the best is yet to come. Learning this has been valuable and a long time coming.
Even before cracking open the book, I started working on a few Italian-inspired recipes and will try to post a few this week.