Thursday, September 24, 2009

#vongole video 8 : why no cheese ?

In this 8th and final video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London explains why cheese is not required in this dish.

Pasta has become popular all over the world as has Parmegiano Reggiaono however it is often added to dishes that do not require the addition of any cheese or this particular cheese. Even in Italy other cheeses form the essential ingredients of a specific pasta dish be it Sicilian Ricotta , Mozzarella or one of the many regional Pecorinos. Also many dishes do not need cheese because it's just one ingredient too many and it unbalances the dish by masking or clashing with the main ingredients.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

7 #vongole video - parsley a herb worth waiting for

In this 7th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London talks about parsley .

Again the selection of parsley is important to ensure the dish is balanced so the taste should not be too strong . Francesco prefers to use Southern Italian , Ligurian or Greek flat parsley and also likes to chop it roughly again to ensure the flavour does not overwhelm the dish.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

6th #vongole video :"emulsione" with "emozione"

In this 6th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London focuses on "emulsione" with both "emozione" and his unparalleled "passione".

This video beautifully illustrates the points of difference one gets with Francesco and his team at L'Anima . Here we see the extra effort and energy that goes into executing a perfect dish time and time again.

The "emulsione" is a kind of Gastronomic Alchemy produced by shaking the pan to and fro and combining the starchy pasta water with olive oil and the natural juices from the clams. The result is a true taste sensation !

Monday, September 21, 2009

5th #vongole video : how and when to add white wine

In this 5th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London explains when and why you add white wine during the cooking of Linguine alle Vongole.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

# 4th vongole video : extra virgin understatement

In this 4th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of L'Anima in London explains why the choice of olive oil in this dish is so important.

Francesco recommends extra virgin olive oil that is quasi neutral in taste thus allowing the key ingredients of the dish to prosper and combine without being over powered by a strong flavoured olive oil that can "kill" the dish.

This lesson so to speak applies to practically all dishes and cuisines . How often do we find just that extra ingredient to many or that the balance of the dish is wrong because there is to much of something .

Being able to select, combine and balance the right ingredients to execute the perfect dish is one of the key points of difference one finds in great cooks and chefs .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#3rd vogole video : it is essential use bronze die/cut pasta

Here Francesco Mazzei explains the reason for using better quality bronze die/cut pasta.

The quality and choice of pasta is very important as it affects the pasta water needed to create the perfect "emulsione" and determine retention ratio of this almost creamy sauce.

Better quality and artisanal pasta have certain key advantages over the key industrial brands . Firtstly they extrude their pasta through bronze dies hat leave microstriations (ridges, grooves, etc.) to capture and hold the sauce.

Second, they dry the pasta at lower temperatures. While this takes longer, it preserves the fine flavors of the wheat.

And finally I also have the impression that the quality of the starch in the pasta water (essential in this dish) is far superior.

I use Garofalo one of the producers from Gragnano reputed to be the best areas for dry pasta making as well as Guiseppe Cocco from Abruzzo another highly rated area . The latter is available in Waitrose whilst most good delis will sell at least one brand of high quality pasta.

Friday, September 18, 2009

2nd #vongole video – linguine or spaghetti: the necessity of long, slender & dry

In part 2 of “linguine alle vongole – the finer points of a perfect pasta”, Francesco Mazzei explains why it is essential to use a pasta that’s long, slender and dry.

1st #vongole video – “spurgare le vongole”: the ritual of cleaning the clams

“linguine alle vongole – the finer points of a perfect pasta” is a series of eight short videos starring Francesco Mazzei, the chef at London’s L’Anima. In part 1 of the series – spurgare le vongole – Francesco explains the ritual of cleaning the clams. In Italian, spurgare means “to clean, purge” and can apply to forms of purging other than the removal of sand from clams.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Linguine alle Vongole - The Finer Points of Perfect Pasta

I have gone on record to say L’Anima is my favourite Italian Restaurant in London here . In fact it’s now one of my favourite restaurants in the UK.

Through a number of discussions on Twitter with Daniel Young @youngandfoodish and Rejina Sabur @gastrogeek1 I got involved in a debate about Linguine alle Vongole that led to meeting and getting to know Francesco Mazzei the brilliant Chef and co Owner of L’Anima.

Eating regularly in a restaurant obviously tells you a lot about the philosophy and passion of the Chef. What is striking about L’Anima is the attention to detail be it the home made bread, choice of olives, the carefully constructed wine list and of course perfectly executed dishes that transport you to Calabria’s, Sicily and Sardinia.

What I like about Linguine alle Vongole is that like many Italian dishes it appears on the surface to be very simple, boil some pasta and throw in a few ingredients

Linguine or Spaghetti alle Vongole is an essentially contested dish just like many others that transcend regionalism and can be found in all corners of the country and beyond. Every aspect is debated and contested, rosso or bianco, chilli or no chilli, white wine or no white wine, choice and quality of pasta, fine or coarsely chopped parsley, cooking time and so on.

In reality when you deconstruct this dish you start to understand Italian Cooking, the importance of good quality ingredients and the dialectic between apparent simplicity and the combination of few ingredients to produce the synthesis of a perfectly executed dish.

Through this project I have been lucky enough to watch a master cook one of my favourite dishes, whilst explaining each of it’s finer points. I am of course even more fortunate to have eaten this glorious dish cooked by Francesco Mazzei from scratch in less than 12 minutes.

Now you to have the opportunity to see Francesco cook Linguine alle Vongole and then eat the dish at this unique event.

Francesco will demo and effectively deconstruct this deceptively simple dish through a series of short web videos and then at a special October 2009 tasting dinner in the private dining room of L'Anima. The first of the vongole vids, "Spurgare le Vongole: The Ritual of Cleaning the Clams" will begin appearing on Thursday 17th of September on youtube and twiddeo. 7 additional videos will be released over the next 7 days.

Tell us why you love linguine vongole in 140 characters or less and post it on twitter before the 25th of September, including the hashtag #vongole somewhere within your response. (If you don't use twitter, post your reply as a comment below). If your verse on vongole is voted the best, you and a guest will be invited by Francesco to attend the special linguine alle vongole tasting dinner at L'Anima in October.

L'Anima on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hacienda Benazuza , La Alqueria

When we entered La Alqueria Rafael Zafra who is the head chef and one of Ferrán Adriá right hand men met us. Rafa greeted our boys who he had met the night before and promised them a great experience to rival anything they may have tasted in their short but nevertheless impressive gastronomic education.

Rafa was not wrong the food and wine combined with superb service was worthy of mention alongside my first experience of Pierre Gagnaire (in St Etienne) in the early 1990's or other unique experiences at Frédy Girardet (Crissier), Troigros and of course Ferrán Adriá.

Rafael Zafra a native of Seville is only 27 and apart from Ferrán Adriá over the last 5 years, he has also worked with Fernando Barcenas (Aldebaran) Daniel Garcia (Trabaguches), Toño Perez (Atrio), Gerard Swaiger (Tristan restaurant).

The tasting menu was really stunning and one of the most enjoyable 3 hours I have ever spent with my family. It's not always easy to choose your wine on such occasions but I decided to stick with Spanish and we drank 2005 Lusco do Mino "Pazo Pineiro de Lusco" Albariño, Rias Baixas and Vega Sicilia Unico 1990 the former was familiar to me and turned out to work well with the myriad of tapas and sea food centred part of the tasting menu whilst Pepe Garcia the Sommelier assured me that the 1990 as opposed to 1995 Vega Sicilia would be better suit with the meat centric part of the menu. 1990 is not one of the great years but nevertheless it's a remarkable wine that has never disappointed me unlike the over hyped 1995 Pingus.

The tasting menu was really a masterpiece not just on an individual per dish basis but how everything worked so well as a whole. The highlights were a mock baguette wrapped in Iberico Ham, tempura flowers, red mullet fillets with mango and lime sorbet, duck foie gras with an almost chocolate like reduction and an incredible frozen white chocolate cake. Many of the dishes are staples tried and tested at El Bulli before being replaced by the newly developed dishes. The real point of difference here is Rafael Zafra who as a native Andalucian adds his talent and creativity to the tried and tested dishes but also some of his own that are obviously inspired by the region of his birth.

In summary Hacienda Benazuza provided us with one of the best boutique hotel stays and breakfasts ever as well as a dinner I am happy to include in my top 10 to date.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hacienda Benazuza , The Breakfast

The 7 course breakfast at the Hacienda Benazuza is an absolute delight and a wonderful way to start your day in this magical Hotel. If you have not yet dined in La Alqueria it gives you an early indication that there is some serious talent in the Kitchen.

Whilst eating some outstanding Jamon/Lomo Ibercico , Manchego as well fresh marinated Anchovies served with excellent crusty white (having arrived very late the night before) we noted that, both procuremnt and service was world class . Juan José Morán the "Director de Restauración " even asked us if for the following evening we wanted something "simple" for our boys as he knew the four of us were booked for dinner at La Alqueria.

Juan who is 33 was actually born in Sanlúcar La Mayor started working at the Hacienda Benazzuza in 1994 as an 18 year old and has risen through the ranks also spending two years at the Berkeley Hotel in London from 1996 to 1998.

Whilst chatting to Juan who was a consumate professional as well as being a delightful and engaging young man, I mentioned that the boys were very advanced gastronomically speaking, and mentioned a few restaurants and dishes they had already experienced. He then took our two sons to the kitchen as we finished our wine an excellent bottle of Silente from north of Seville. They came back delighted, saying that they had met the "head chef" and his team.

The breakfast is obviously designed to wake up all of your senses and everything from the outstanding pastries to superb juices , marmalades ,conserves, flavoured butters , marinated fruits , breakfast deserts to the finale of sumptuous egg based dishes.

When a Michelin starred kitchen brigade makes breakfast one can expect something special but when it's brigade from La Alqueira/El Bulli you get fireworks !

The rest of the day was spent realxing by the pool waiting in glorious anticipation for our tasting menu at La Alqueira.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hacienda Benazuza , Sanlúcar La Mayor - Seville

I recently spent two nights at the Hacienda Benazuza with my wife and two young sons and this is the first of three posts that cover a magical experience. The other posts will cover the amazing 7 course al frescoBreakfast and then Dinner at La Alqueria.

The El Bulli Hacienda Benazuza was originally a 10th century Moorish Estate, Hacienda Benazuza later became part of the crusading order of the Knights of Santiago and subsequently the property of a succession of noblemen honoured with the title “Count of Benazuza”. In 1998 the hotel formed an association with El Bulli (Ferrán Adriá) for the food and beverage side of the business and it is now part of the El Bulli Hotels and Resorts. The crowning glory of this association is the hotel's “La Alqueria” restaurant that currently boasts two Michelin stars. The Hacienda Benazuza is a veritable oasis surrounded by lush gardens and enclosed by white washed walls, where calm and seclusion pervades the air. The extended views of the centenary olive groves mix with the sensuous sound of the fountains and subtle smell of honeysuckle of the gardens. The inside of the hotel is a series Arabic patios and salons that create a timeless Andalusian environmentthat reflects the hotel’s rich historical past. The 44 bedrooms and suites are decorated with perfectly selected objects of art and valuable antiques that blend harmoniously with the more modern facilities one would expect from a world class five star boutique hotel.