Jamie Oliver has made it his life’s work to make good food accessible to everyone. He’s made a meal in 15 minutes, made it affordable, brought it to school lunches, brought it into communities, and had it prepared by at-risk youth. He has tried to reduce the risk of poor health due to lack of nutrition in at least two countries. There’s no doubt that he knows about food.
In his latest book, Oliver brings us his take on the food that makes us feel fantastic. Jamie’s Comfort Food; Scrumptious Happy Classics isn’t about unusual ingredients or trendy techniques. It’s about making delicious food that fills you up physically and emotionally — and about making the best possible version of that food.
These are the recipes you cook because you want to surprise your other half with a special meal, because you had a hard week and need some pampering, or because your friends are coming over to watch a game and have a few drinks. The ones you make because you got a promotion and want to celebrate. These are recipes for real life.
I believe that the best cookbooks inspire readers with great photos, and this book delivers in spades. Every dish has at least one picture by award-winning photographer David Loftus and they all look amazing. There’s even a beautiful picture of porridge, something I would have thought impossible. To anyone who loves food, this book is worth the 40 bucks just for the photos.
Oliver surrounds himself with a team of experts whose food-ninja skills shine through in this book. There’s a photo index with nutritional information to help you decide how the recipes fit into your lifestyle. Estimated preparation times make it easier to plan your meal and the index lets you know which recipes are suitable for vegetarian diets. All of this in a book which is not meant to be about dieting, time-saving or vegetarianism. It speaks to Jamie Oliver’s belief that food is a part of life, all the time and should always be just that simple.
The biggest challenge in this review was deciding which recipes to try first. My husband was kind enough to make the Best Bun Cha Bowl, as he knows it’s one of my favourite weekend lunches. This version was very satisfying. I particularly like the shredded cabbage tossed with the tangy dressing. It was a nice kick among all the fresh vegetables. I’d probably skip the pork next time and double up on the shrimp. The beauty of this recipe is that it’s infinitely adaptable. If you like your food spicy, as we do, I’d suggest adding extra chiles to the dressing, or use your favourite hot sauce. A shot of Sriracha would make this just right.
The Eggplant Parmigiana Sandwich is a new twist for me but I’ll use any excuse to make homemade bread. In this case a gorgeous focaccia was the perfect vehicle for the wonderfully messy eggplant parmigiana. I did scale back the recipe; the original was written to serve 16 people! It’s definitely on the menu the next time we have a bunch of people over.
Anyone who has watched Jamie Oliver cook on TV is familiar with his fast-paced, high-energy style of talking. The recipes read exactly the same way. You can almost hear him narrate the story of the food as you read. If the book has one flaw, it’s that all this wordiness makes the print tiny. It’s a small price to pay for such an inspiring cookbook. I hope my family isn’t reading this right now because for Christmas they are all getting a copy of Jamie’s Comfort Food.
Recipes courtesy of Jamie’s Comfort Food; Scrumptious Happy Classics (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd; Sept 2014; $38)
Best Bun Cha Bowls
1 large handful of shelled unsalted peanuts
¼ of a green cabbage
1 bunch of fresh mint (1 oz)
½ a bunch of fresh basil (½ oz)
½ an iceberg lettuce
7 oz bean sprouts (ready to eat)
½ an English cucumber
5 oz vermicelli rice noodles
8 large raw shell-on jumbo shrimp
7 oz pork belly (skin removed)
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 fresh red chiles
2 heaping tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons fish sauce
This is a Vietnamese classic from Hanoi — “bun” means fine noodle, “cha” means fatty pork — and it’s often served in markets at lunchtime when you’re allowed to grill on the street. It’s served cold in summer and hot in winter, so it’s a real all-year-round dish. The idea is to build your own bowl, choosing the combination of meat, herbs, and veggies that you fancy. I’ve paired pork belly with delicious sticky shrimp here, to give this version an extra edge.
What we’re going to do is assemble a load of little bowls and plates of garnishes, but we’ll kick it off by making a big jam jar of dressing. Finely chop 2 chiles and place in a large clean jar with the sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, and 1/3 cup of boiling water. Secure the lid and shake well until sugar is dissolved.
Toss the peanuts in a frying pan, smash them up with a mortar and pestle, and place in a bowl. Very finely slice the cabbage (ideally on a mandolin — use the guard!) and scrunch well with 4 tablespoons of the dressing and an extra swig of vinegar in a bowl. Pick the mint and basil leaves into bowls of cold water. Trim and finely slice the scallions and the remaining chile, shred the iceberg lettuce, and put it all on a little plate with the bean sprouts. Halve the cucumber lengthwise and seed with a teaspoon, then finely slice (I like to use a crinkle-cut knife). Peel the carrots and grate into another bowl. Pour boiling water over the noodles, cover, and leave to soak for 5 minutes, or until soft, then drain and refresh under cold water.
Peel the shrimp, leaving the tails on, run your knife down the back, and pull out the veins, then run the knife down again to butterfly them. Chop the pork belly quite finely and fry in a hot pan until golden while you peel and finely slice the onion, then add it to the pan. Stir-fry for 5 minutes, then throw in the shrimp. Cook for a final couple of minutes, add the hoisin to glaze everything, and tip onto a plate.
Place all your garnishes in the middle of the table with the jam jar dressing and four large serving bowls, and let everyone build their own exciting bun cha bowl.
*Embrace the spirit of this recipe and tweak the ingredients to your liking. Grilled squid would be delicious, as would slices of perfectly cooked steak. It’s also a great opportunity to embrace any seasonal veggies you can get your hands on.
Eggplant Parmigiana Sandwich
2 hours 40 minutes Plus Proofing
1 x ¼-oz package of active dry yeast
7 ½ cups strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
quality extra virgin olive oil
8 medium eggplants
7 oz stale bread
7 oz Parmesan cheese
8 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh basil (1 oz)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ¼ cups red wine (Barbera d’Alba or d’Asti from Piedmont is perfection, or use a Valpolicella or Chianti)
4 x 14-oz cans of plum tomatoes
3 x 4-oz balls of mozzarella cheese
8 oz arugula
Having a mouthful of this sandwich should be a human right. Eggplant parmigiana, which is a beautiful veggie side dish or main in its own right, is at the heart of this story but rammed into a soft light focaccia as a sarnie [sandwich] it’s a total game changer. It’s a great party food, especially at lunchtime with a delicious green salad and a few nice cold beers.
Whisk the yeast into 2 ½ cups of tepid water and leave for 5 minutes. Put the flour and 1 teaspoon of sea salt into a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Pour in the yeasty water and use a spoon to bring in the flour until it becomes too hard to mix, then bring it together with clean floured hands and knead for 5 minutes, or until elastic. Cover and leave in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Knock back the dough, then push it into a large roasting pan (12 x 16 inches). Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and poke it all over with your fingertips, right to the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then leave until doubled in size again.
While the bread is proofing, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Slice the eggplants lengthwise into ¾-inch-thick slices. Season generously with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 20 minutes. Tear the bread into a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs, sprinkle over a large baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Switch to the fine grater blade and whiz up the Parmesan. Peel the garlic and finely slice with the basil stalks, then fry in a large frying pan on a medium heat with a splash of olive oil and oregano until lightly golden. Pour in the wine, bring to a boil, and cook away, then squash in the tomatoes and add 1 can’s worth of water. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Wipe the eggplant slices with paper towels and fry them in a little olive oil in batches in a large frying pan on a high heat for a few minutes on each side, or until golden.
Cover the base of a roasting pan (10 x 14 inches) with one-third of the eggplants, top with one-third each of the tomato sauce, basil leaves, bread crumbs, and Parmesan, then tear over a ball of mozzarella. Repeat twice, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Once the focaccia has doubled in size, very gently place it in the middle of the oven. Place the parmigiana at the bottom of the oven and cook both for 40 minutes, or until the focaccia is lightly golden and cooked through and the parmigiana is bubbling. When you remove the focaccia and parmigiana from the oven, drizzle the focaccia all over with at least another 4 tablespoons of olive oil and (this is important) leave the parmigiana to rest for 30 minutes. Divide them both up into portions and stuff the sandwiches, adding some lemon-dressed arugula. It’s messy, but awesome.