Use Less, Cook More
There was a time when a great chef prided himself on using every part of an ingredient in his kitchen. I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn in kitchens like this or at a time when this was wide spread wisdom. I wasn’t a great chef and I didn’t work for them. Ingredients were cheap and everything was disposable. It was more efficient to chuck the old carrots in the bin than to pick through them. After work I read about the legendary chefs of France using every part of every last onion, mushroom and herb and, as I learnt to run my own kitchen, I realised the wisdom of this, quality ingredients aren’t cheap. What is also apparent is that these principles don’t just make financial sense, they make environmental sense too. I just can’t just take the part I want the most and discard the rest. I have Greta Thunberg’s incredible UN speech burnt in the back of my mind – I do not want to fail my children, when they remember me many years in the future I want them to say how I helped to find a better way, not how I took what I wanted and left them nothing. Ingredients have many parts, some things are good for one job, some for the other. Using what we have matters, making the most of things, fixing and reusing. These ideas are cornerstones and apply as much to food as to clothes, furniture or technology. When you are cooking, cook well, cook simply and try to use everything that is useful.
We make a lot of nut milks in the restaurant, and I mean a lot. Making a lot of nut milks means a lot of nut meal. Anyone who has ever made nut milk will know that the meal is a funny thing, it has little flavour and a claggy texture. It is, however, a huge amount of the nut and a tragic waste to put in the bin. It can be worked successfully into crackers but no one needs that many crackers. By chance one night I found a recipe for an almond ricotta that bore little relation to soft Italian cheese but it got the cogs whirring. Almond ricotta is essentially just an almond meal with a little of the milk in it but it works in a similar way and thus makes great dumplings in the style of gnudi. What is really interesting about this is that it fundamentally changed the way I think about recipes. We cannot have almond milk on the menu without almond dumplings. They are both great things but one shouldn’t exist without the other. There are many other things I can do with nut meal but what matters is that when I choose to make nut milk I don’t just make the milk, I also expect to make crackers, gnudi, and smoothies too, and perhaps, for the sake of my children, if I can’t do this, I am better off without the milk. In essence, I need to use less and cook more.
200g Almonds or Hazelnuts
400g Cold Water
Soak the almonds overnight in cold water.
Rinse them and blend them with the 400g cold water until smooth,
Line a sieve with muslin or a superbag and pass the mix through it, squeezing it to extract all the milk. Store the milk in the fridge for up to 3 days and take the meal for gnudi/dumplings.
Meal from the nut milk
4 banana shallots or 2 onions
2 fistfuls of fresh herbs.
1kg yellow semolina
Finely dice the shallots or onions and sweat in the oil until soft.
Mix with the almond meal.
Chop the herbs of your choice and then add to the almond.
Season well with salt and pepper.
Check the mix. It needs to be firm enough to hold its shape as a ball but soft enough to be pleasant in the mouth. If it is too dry then add a splash of almond milk or water to moisten it. The key to this recipe is finding the sweet spot between holding its shape but tasting succulent and moreish.
Once you are happy with the texture and seasoning, shape the mix into balls about the size of a large marble.
Find a deep tray just big enough to hold all the dumplings and line it with a thick layer of semolina. Arrange the balls on top and then cover them with the remaining semolina. You need to make sure that the balls are completely covered and not touching each other.
Put them into the fridge for 24 hours. The moisture from the almond meal will be drawn out of the balls and will mix with the semolina forming a ‘pasta’ shell around each ball.
Once each ball has a shell around it bring a large pan of water to the boil and season well.
Put the balls in in small batches and cook gently until they float to the surface. Remove them and either serve them as they are, drizzled in a little oil and with your favourite sauce or let them cool and then fry them for a more filling meal whenever you fancy.
You will be left with a tray of semolina. You can simply sieve this and keep it in the fridge for next time or add 1/3 of the weight of semolina of water to it and massage it into a pasta dough. Whatever you do, please, don’t put it in the bin.