Monday, December 27, 2010

Oliver without the twist

He makes everything look so easy! Or, in his words, easy peasy.

Yup, I am talking about Jamie Oliver. The scruffy, multi-millionaire British chef who became a celebrity with his cooking show, The Naked Chef. Thankfully, he doesn't really strip down in the show. No... the title "Naked Chef" wasn't even his idea, apparently. His producers thought it a clever way of marketing his style of cooking: the no frills, no fuss way of cook. Jamie's was among the first of its kind, a stripped down cooking show about how anyone can just "chuck" a few gorgeous ingredients together and come up with a superb dish.

Yes, Jamie is full of superlatives.

I've been following Jamie on TV off and on for a while. Only "off and on" because I find  I can only take Jamie in small doses. Don't ask me why exactly, its just one of those things.. I've bought some of his books too although its been a while since I touched them.

And then I had a dream of him. The result of watching too much of Top Chef I think. In the dream, I was in a cooking competition and Jamie was a competitor. We were neck in neck in every round. I woke up before the final round of the competition but since it was a dream, I reckon I won. Ha ha.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Jamie. So, I took my Jamie books off the shelf and began looking for recipes that appealed to me. It was my turn to write the cookbook review for Don't Call Me Chef (a column I co-produce with Marty Thyme and Hungry C) and so I decided I'd write about Jamie since he was my present focus.

As I tried a number of his recipes out, I remembered why I bought all those books. The boy can cook. His recipes are easy and always turn out well. The food always tastes fantastic. They aren't exactly sublime (that's fancy talk for fancy gourmet food) but they're good wholesome food that is good for a family dinner or a feast. Your friends will be impressed.

I tried out more than a dozen recipes in just one week. My favourites were the Sweet Garlic, Bread and Almond soup which I wrote about in the book review and these Focacia loafs which I kinda played around with.Both are from the book Jamie's kitchen.

Jamie's recipe was for a tomato focacia for which he used cherry tomatoes: green, red and yellow tomatoes and basil. I had some basil but I didn't have any cherry tomatoes. What I did have was a whole bowl of chunky tomato sauce which I made a couple of days ago to douse some burgers in. I decided to use the sauce instead.

I also decided to make two types of focacia instead of one. My new favourite flavour is that of roasted garlic so I decided to go with roasted garlic and rosemary.

I've made focacia before and though it wasn't too complicated, Jamie's recipe simplified it further. It really was easy peasy and the result was a deliciously soft  bread that can be eaten like pizza: on its own sans any spreads, topping, dips or filling. Just smashing.

Focacia, two types

A: Prepare the bread dough
1 tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
315 ml tepid water (you may need about 50 ml more, depending on the flour)
500g bread flour
1 tbsp salt
some extra flour for dusting

Dissolve the yeast and honey in half the tepid water.
In a bowl, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dissolved yeast mixture. With four fingers of one hand, make circular movements from the centre moving outwards, slowly bringing in more and more of the flour until the yeast mixture is soaked up.
Pour the remaining water into the centre and gradually incorportae all the flour to make a moist dough.
Now its time to knead. Roll, push and fold the dough over and over for 5 mins. This develops the gluten and the structure of the dough. If the dough sticks to your hand, rub a little flour and go on.
Done? Flour both hands and the top of the dough and shape it into a footnall. Place it on a floured surface, cover with clingfilm and allow it to proof till it doubles in size: about 40 mins.

B Prepare the toppings
2 cups cherry tomatoes
handful of basil
5 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
With a small knife, core the tomatoes. Score the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel off the skin. Cut in half and remove seeds. Place in a bowl with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cover.

2 heads garlic
1 tbsp dried rosemary
5 tbsp olive oil.
Roast two heads of galic in the oven at 180C for 30 mins. Cool and squeeze out the jammy garlic from the skin. Set aside.

C. Back to the dough
Once the dough has doubled, remove cling film and knock the air out of the dough but punching it with your fingers. Divide into half. Place on a floured surface and roll both out till 2.5 cm thick. Transfer onto oiled trays.
Pour the olive oil over. Place the tomatos and basil/garlic and rosemary and push your fingers to the bottom of the tray accross the whole expanse of the dough. Use your fingers like a poker: push them through and flatten them out when you hit the tray. This gives the bread the classic focacia shape with indentations all over. 

Let it double again and bake in a preheated oven (220C) for about 15 to 20 mins till the outside is nice and brown and crispy and the inside is soft.

Drizzle some olive oil on top when out of the oven. Cook and eat.    

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