October 11, 2010

A Polite Introduction to Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver.
I remember when his Naked Chef series first hit America. People thought he was so cool, so hip. So very British.

Me, I just couldn't get past his informal, chatty demeanor and those expressions:  Cracking. Lovely jubbly. A glug of olive oil. A knob of butter. A swig of vinegar. Whack it in the oven.  Brill.
Jamie just didn't do it for me.  His cooking style was too imprecise and too unconventional.  I was used to watching the very professional, composed Mario Batali in Molto Mario and the serious Lidia Bastianich in Lidia's Italy

Since moving to France I've had the chance to become better acquainted with Monsieur Oliver. All of our British friends have at least one of his cookbooks and he seemed to be everywhere at once;  in America, Spain, France, doing TV ads, and all over the Internet.
And even though he seemed to be a decent enough chef, I was still a bit skeptical.

Then last summer I saw a recipe for Rigatoni with Sweet Tomatoes, Aubergine and Mozzarella in a friend's copy of Jamie's Dinners and decided that I had to try it before the fresh eggplant, basil and tomatoes disappeared until the following year.

Wow!  What a dish!  Rich with vegetables, studded with garlic and onions and smothered in gooey cheese.  I thought it was really, really delicious. 

I've made it several times since then, yet every time I forget to take a photo.  That's been a real problem of mine lately. 
So here's the original photo that I took last summer (made with with purple basil and pipe rigate), which doesn't really do this dish any justice, followed by the much more appetizing photo from the book. 

Glad we finally met, Jamie.

Rigatoni with Sweet Tomato, Aubergine and Mozzarella
by Jamie Oliver
serves 4

This is a dish I’ve had many times in Italy, on the Amalfi coast. It’s one of those dishes that tastes like home - it’s comfort food, and it makes you feel good. The interesting thing about it is that the cow’s-milk mozzarella is torn up and thrown in at the last minute so that when you dig your spoon in you get melted, stringy bits of it - a real joy to eat. You can eat this as soon as it’s made, or you can put it all into a baking pan with a little cheese grated on top and reheat it as a baked pasta dish the next day, if you wish. - Jamie Oliver
  • 1 firm ripe pink, black, or white aubergine (eggplant)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • Two 14-ounce cans good-quality plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 fresh or dried chilies, chopped or crumbled, optional
  • bunch fresh basil, leaves ripped and stalks sliced
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 pound rigatoni or penne
  • 7 ounces cow’s-milk mozzarella
  • 1 piece Parmesan cheese, for grating

Remove both ends of the eggplant and slice it into 1/2 inch slices, then slice these across and finely dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Some people prefer to season their eggplant with salt and let it sit for a while in a colander to draw out the bitterness, but I don’t really do this unless I’m dealing with a seedy, bitter eggplant. This dish is really best made using a firm silky one.

Now, put a large saucepan on the heat and drizzle in 4 to 5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. When it’s hot, add the cubes of eggplant, and as soon as they hit the pan stir them around with a spoon so they are delicately coated with the oil and not soaked on one side only. Cook for about 7 or 8 minutes on a medium heat.  Then add the garlic and onion. When they have a little color, add the canned tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. Stir around and season carefully with salt and pepper. At this point, if you wanted to give the dish a little heat you could add some chopped fresh or crumbled dried chilli, but that’s up to you. Add the basil stalks, and simmer the sauce nice and gently for around 15 minutes, then add the cream.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta, cook according to the package instructions until it is soft but still holding its shape, then drain it, saving a little of the cooking water. I like to put the pasta back into the pot it was cooked in with a tiny bit of the cooking water and a drizzle of olive oil and move it around so it becomes almost dressed with the water and oil.

At this point add the lovely tomato sauce to the pasta. By now the eggplant will have cooked into a creamy tomatoey pulp, which is just yum yum yum! Season carefully to taste with salt and pepper. When all my guests are sitting round the table, I take the pan to the table, tear up the mozzarella and the fresh basil, and fold these in nicely for 30 seconds. Then very quickly serve into bowls. By the time your guests start to eat, the mozzarella will have started to melt and will be stringy and gorgeous and really milky-tasting. Just lovely with the tomatoes and eggplant. Serve at the table with a block of Parmesan cheese and a grater so that everyone can help themselves. Pin It
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