When it comes to ingredients, Graham Elliot thinks less is more.
“Think about taking a tomato and instead of turning it into a bunch of weird stuff, just slice a tomato paper thin with a drop of olive oil and sea salt and it’s one of the greatest things ever. Making food taste more like itself, I think, is important, concentrating flavours.”
The author of “Cooking Like a Master Chef” says recipes are just ideas with plenty of riffs.
“People get intimidated by all the fancy words and terminology and 50 ingredients in a recipe, but if you think, ‘OK, here’s a pot roast, well, it’s got beef, you sear it, you put it in the stock and you’ve got a couple different veggies, you put it in the oven and there you go.’
“If you want to go crazy you can add different things or reduce wine, but really at the end of the day you’re just making pot roast. It’s not hard. People have done it for thousands of years so that’s what I try to let people know.”
Here are two recipes from the book to try at home.
CHEDDAR CHEESE RISOTTO
In this rice dish, inspired by a road trip through Wisconsin, Elliot uses cheddar from that state in place of the Parmesan of classic risotto.
He dresses up the dish with a little bacon “powder,” some glazed onions, apples and chives.
The bacon and onions must be made ahead.
Prep Time: About 35 minutes, plus drying and resting
Cooking Time: About 1 hour
4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 Gala or similar firm, sweet apples, peeled, cored and julienned (reserve apple peelings)
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh lemon juice
250 ml (1 cup) grenadine
125 ml (1/2 cup) apple cider vinegar
50 ml (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
30 ml (2 tbsp) unsalted butter
500 ml (2 cups) peeled pearl onions
45 ml (3 tbsp) hard cider
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
250 ml (1 cup) minced onions
500 ml (2 cups) arborio rice
750 ml (3 cups) dry white wine
125 g (4 oz) Wisconsin or other cheddar cheese, shredded (about 250 ml/1 cup)
60 g (2 oz) mascarpone (about 50 ml/1/4 cup)
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch chives, finely chopped, for garnish
Bacon Powder: In a small frying pan, slowly cook bacon over medium-low heat. Spoon off fat and discard as bacon cooks. When bacon browns, use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a fine-mesh sieve or chinois to drain a little more.
Spread bacon pieces on paper towels and let air-dry for 2 to 3 hours.
Grind bacon pieces in a spice or coffee grinder. Spread powder on paper towels and let it air-dry for at least 6 hours. The powder can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in a lidded container at room temperature until ready to use.
Apple Garnish: In a small bowl, toss julienned apples with lemon juice. Add some cold water to cover apples and set aside for up to 4 hours.
In a small saucepan, combine grenadine, vinegar and brown sugar with reserved apple peelings. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until syrup has reduced to consistency of honey. Transfer syrup to a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Glazed Onions: In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. When hot, cook pearl onions for about 15 minutes or until browned and tender.
Add hard cider, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 30 minutes longer or until onions are cooked through. Lift onions from cooking liquid and set aside, covered to keep warm.
Risotto: In a large saucepan, bring about 750 ml (3 cups) of water to a boil. Reduce heat so it’s barely simmering but is very hot.
In a large, deep pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and saute minced onions for 4 to 5 minutes or until translucent. Add rice and stir with a wooden spoon to mix well with onions. Cook for 5 minutes longer.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add 250 ml (1 cup) of the wine, stirring rice and wine continuously with wooden spoon. When first addition of wine has been absorbed by rice, add another 250 ml (1 cup). Stir rice and wine, and add remaining wine when rice has absorbed second addition. As you stir, the rice will release its natural starches, which help absorb the liquid.
Begin adding hot water in 50-ml (1/4-cup) increments, stirring all the while. When you have added about 250 ml (1 cup) of the hot water, start tasting rice and when it‚Äôs al dente and has a little toothiness, stop adding water. This entire process should take about 20 minutes. Keep hot water on stove.
Add cheddar and mascarpone to hot risotto. Stir to let cheese melt into rice. Gently stir in glazed onions. Season with salt and pepper. (Make sure you use enough pepper, which helps cut through the flavours of the dish.)
Divide risotto among 4 to 6 serving plates or shallow bowls. Drain and pat dry julienned apples and garnish each serving with apples, chives and bacon powder.
Spoon pureed apple peelings around the outside of the dish.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
KABOCHA SQUASH SOUP WITH TOASTED PEPITAS
Kabocha squash, not as well known as butternut and acorn, lends a rich squash-i-ness to this soup.
You can use another winter squash, but whatever you use, puree only half and then mix the chunkier half with the smooth half.
The pepita garnish is a little time-consuming but extremely tasty. “Make it when the in-laws are on their way over and you want to impress. But if you’re eating the soup in your sweatpants, just toast some pepitas instead,” Elliot writes.
Yuzu juice is sold bottled in most Japanese markets, many specialty markets and online. It’s the juice of a Japanese fruit that is rarely found outside of its island nation. The juice is sweetly sour and a little flowery; many say it tastes like a mixture of lemons, grapefruit, and tangerines. If you can’t find it, substitute fresh lemon or lime juice.
To bruise the lemongrass, put the stalks beneath the flat side of a large knife, such as a chef’s knife, and use the heel of your hand or end of your fist to hit the knife. Don’t hit too hard; you don’t want to damage the lemongrass. Light bruising releases essential oils, which heighten the flavour. It’s a technique used most often with herbs, spices, garlic, onions and similar ingredients.
Prep Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 to 35 minutes
Toasted Pepita-Coconut-Lime Garnish
50 ml (1/4 cup) pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) canola oil
50 ml (1/4 cup) shredded unsweetened coconut
50 ml (1/4 cup) diced raw kabocha squash
5 ml (1 tsp) yuzu juice
Salt, to taste
15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, gently bruised and sliced
1 small onion, sliced
30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 red kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 l (16 cups) vegetable broth, preferably homemade
15 ml (1 tbsp) fresh lime juice
15 ml (1 tbsp) salt, plus more as needed
Garnish: Preheat oven to 160 C (325 F).
Toss pepitas with oil and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven for about 6 minutes, stirring once or twice to encourage even browning. Transfer to a cool plate to stop cooking. Keep oven on.
Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until browned around edges. Transfer to a cool plate.
In a small bowl, toss squash with yuzu juice and season with salt.
Grate zest from lime or peel and chop it. Peel pith from lime and slice lime into thin rounds.
Soup: In a stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add lemongrass, onion and ginger and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute or until slightly softened. Add garlic and continue to stir for another minute or so until softened. Take care that garlic does not burn.
Add squash and vegetable broth. The broth should cover the squash by about 1 cm (1/2 inch) ‚Äî if not, add a little water. Let broth come to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork.
Working in batches and using a slotted spoon, transfer squash and other vegetables to a blender in small manageable amounts. Puree until smooth and add liquid from pot to adjust consistency.
As each batch of soup is pureed, transfer to a clean pot. Add lime juice and salt and stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve garnished with toasted pepitas, coconut, squash, lime zest and lime rounds.
Makes 6 servings.
Source: “Cooking Like a Master Chef: 100 Recipes to Make the Everyday Extraordinary” by Graham Elliot with Mary Goodbody (Atria Books, 2015).