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


Chichiboulie said...

Jamie took a while to grow on me as well. Couldn't stand the lisp during our first year in England. But he has grown to be one of my favourites now, not only for his fabulous home cooking but also for the other programmes he's gone on to sponsor. A celebrity not just stuffing his pockets (or poultry in the case)!

Veronica said...

I'm in the "Jamie's irritating" club too, and I've never even seen one of his shows! He just seems to be full of himself. I know he's done some great work on school dinners etc. -- but he seems to be heavily into self-promotion too.

Someone gave me his Jamie's Italy book a couple of years ago (see? Only Jamie would take possession of an entire country so casually), but although I love Italian food, somehow it didn't tempt me in the way Anna del Conte, Marcella Hazan. I think I've only ever cooked one recipe from it and wasn't impressed. So I remain to be converted.

spacedlaw said...

This recipe looks like Pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian dish which - however - does not call for parmesan but ricotta salata to be grated on top.

Graham said...

Just to give an alternative perspective, I spent a few years in Essex being brought up. When Jamie first did his TV cooking shows (must have been mid-90s) I lapped it up. At the end of the day he can cook. I use as many of his recipes as any other chef/cookery writer.

croquecamille said...

I found Jamie Oliver annoying at first, but over the last few years he has really gained my respect. His food is good. He works hard on campaigning for better nutrition education in schools. And I read in Consumer Reports that his books contain some of the best-tested, most reliable recipes of any celebrity chef.

angelina said...

I have to say I've always liked him because of that informal way he cooks which reminds me of a close friend of mine who could be a four star chef if she wanted to- I've learned a lot from her about using your instincts in the kitchen and so when I see Jamie I really respect his glugs and bits.

Mlle Paradis said...

all in their own time! glad you made it! (and p.s., i found myself on some nice list of yours - nice surprise, thanks!)

bon continuation!

wcs said...

I suppose we all have strong opinions about celebrities and food, so when the two are combined, watch out!

Mr. Oliver does know his stuff. But he is annoying and sloppy. And wasteful. I suppose it's an adopted style for television (at least I hope it is), but I just can't get past the mess he makes in his kitchen.

wcs said...

Just one other thing: when I typed my word verification, it didn't take. I got another chance and the new word was "baketh." As in "thou shalt baketh."

Made me smile. :)

Chez Loulou said...

I like the direction he's gone as well. Nice to see someone in his position using his influence in a positive way.

Oh, he definitely likes to promote himself! :)
And I have to admit, if I were going to buy an Italian cookbook, it wouldn't be his. I love Marcella! But I've seen a couple of his that I wouldn't mind having in my collection.

Yes, it does.
I think I made that once, many years ago. Must try it again...thanks for the reminder!

Thanks for sharing your perspective. Most of my British friends adore him.

Interesting facts...I respect that he does so much to raise awareness, and he seems very passionate about what he does.

Chez Loulou said...

I enjoy watching him now, though in small doses. I wasn't super thrilled with his show in America, especially when he went to New Orleans and only focused on Katrina.
But enjoyed the segment in New York.
Why won't your friend go and be a chef??? Sounds like she should!

Mlle Paradis
I've always enjoyed your site. Thanks for commenting!

I love your perspective. I've not noticed him being wasteful, but he is messy...I can see why that would annoy you.

What will thou baketh today? :)

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I could not stand Jamie when he first started out, but as he has grown older so he has grown on me. Love this recipe, one I will try next year when my veg garden is in full force again. Diane

Robin @ My Melange said...

Nice recipe! I've always loved him- and his recent attempt to help the American school system. I have his Jamie's Italy cookbook and though the recipes are good, the photos are ahhhhh mazing ;)

Chez Loulou said...

It is a great dish! I should probably try more of his recipes, but it is the only one I have.

I heard about his recent trip to the States to try to help change the school lunch program. It wasn't very well received, was it?

Sara Louise said...

I was the opposite, I had an instant crush on him! I liked his easy breezy approach. Happy to hear you've come over to the Jamie side :-)

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Hi Chez Loulou! Thank you for your comments on my post, and I wanted to come back and return the favor. I've checked in on your blog from time to time, lurking, 'cause you are definitely one of the popular kids at "Paris Blog High School." :) I felt really honored that you took the time to read mine! I've now got a wee bit more time on my hands to be reading and commenting on more blogs as well, so I have perused at leisure several things on your blog and seen even more of why people read. It's delightful here at your place. :)

Hmmmm. Jamie O. I am not sure how I feel about him. I'm not a raver, nor an avid follower, but I guess I get why people are. I am with you on being more used to people like Lidia B -- oh I watched her on PBS in the States for many years, and really liked her demeanor/cooking style. Ultimately, though, I think my view is like yours: let the real test be the food!

This recipe sounds really amazing.

One more thing -- I cannot keep a straight face over the expression "knob of butter." *snicker* I won't even go into the image in my head when I read or see it as it's way past PG-13, but I get fits of giggles with it. A "pat of butter" is SO much more of a benign expression, IMHO. *tee hee*

Be well, and thank you again for visiting me. (I left a little reply for you there, too, in case you didn't see it yet).

Chez Loulou said...

Ours was a gradual earning of respect. And I'm glad we finally got to where we are now.

The popular kids at "Paris Blog High School?" That did make me laugh!
Yes, I have a serious crush on Paris, but don't live there and have to deal with the day to day métro-bulot-dodo routine. I can see that it isn't always a bed of roses.
I love reading your blog and don't know why I never commented before last week. You are so open and honest and I think you are very brave.

Knob of butter cracks me up as well!

Paulita said...

Now I'm starving and it's only breakfast time. I've never heard of Jamie Oliver - well, until now.

Chez Loulou said...

Glad I could introduce the two of you!

Tami said...

Oh I LOVE this recipe. I was as skeptical as you years ago, although I confess now being an adoring fan. But this recipe is staple here. And to make it last I roast whole eggplants in September then freeze them so I can make this in the cold winter. Lovely jubbly don't you think:)

Chez Loulou said...

This is a great, hearty dish to make in the winter. Freezing the eggplant is a great idea!